Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast: Shefali Shah, Manish Chaudhari
There is nothing like a household kitchen to demonstrate a culture’s deeply ingrained patriarchal setup. I’m not talking about young millennial “house parties” or drunken gatherings at messy bachelor pads. In fact, there is a gratifyingly casual brand of self-awareness within the current young urban generations about regimented and invisible sexism; we are too busy trying to have a good time, conduct armchair debates and fit within the social-media universe to bother about trying to emulate our parents or reminisce about our childhood observations.
And in that sense, we’re fortunate – given that most educated adults, punch-drunk by the responsibility of designing their families and future, still enable chauvinism as a matter of playful pride.
Ghaywan recognizes, first and foremost, that the concept of marriage these days – especially amidst old friends we’ve grown up with in smaller cities – is the license to reinforce domestic clichés
Neeraj Ghaywan (Masaan) cleverly chooses one such “get-together” of married couples in his acutely observed new short, Juice. He recognizes, first and foremost, that the concept of marriage these days – especially amidst old friends we’ve grown up with in smaller cities – is the license to reinforce domestic clichés. Suddenly, everybody becomes their parents and uncles and aunties from a bygone era. Suddenly a partition is drawn, not unlike concentration camps, where girls are put in a dark chamber while men bond through labour.
Mrs. Singh (Shefali Shah), or more appropriately, Manju, recognizes this possibility when she walks into the room full of “party children” – that is, bored kids who’re bundled up together in a bedroom on a Saturday night while the adults create a “mahaul” outside. Without her saying a word, we can see that she is worried about what her son will learn from these nights. She is worried that she is worried – till now, and even now, she was happily a part of this problem.
She is the leader and host, the orchestrator of refreshments to the hardworking men who provide for them. All the fathers, with their whisky and cigarettes, are gleefully dissecting the inevitability of Hillary Clinton losing to Donald Trump. They are cackling on about the usefulness of a new female employee. They are announcing their personalities instead of embracing them.
The mothers willfully occupy a kitchen to cook up a storm and gossip like little girls getting a breather from their cruel stepmothers. Yet, there is more than one pressure cooker in this environment; only, the whistles are at different stages of high frequency. Even in this pocket of liberal slavery, the women discuss progressive concepts while making sure the “maid servant” doesn’t drink from the same glass. The expression on the young lady’s face is startling; she can’t help but think, “Do these madams even realize that we are all in the same boat tonight? And yet, they locate a hierarchy in suffering, too”.
The characters around her sway between irritating and ignorant, the sounds and smells of delicious food add to the assault on her senses, the heat is stifling, while the “intimateness” of the city flat makes it seem like the walls are closing in
One of the several wives bunched together in the kitchen makes her little daughter serve the boys – kids of the same tender age – their dinner before she eats. This might feel respectful and traditional, and even endearing, to those involved in the situation, but in hindsight, with age and books and general knowledge, it may feel like such a self-sabotaging act of passiveness. Manju can only hope that the girl grows up to become a rebel, a stubborn individual; still a better option than being an obedient daughter.
Ghaywan constructs the tether of Manju expertly enough to make us sense her recent history. Private arguments have preceded this public quasi-meltdown. Private arguments will succeed this scene – she can almost predict the “Can’t a tired man of the house enjoy his evening drink?” line of debate. The characters around her sway between irritating and ignorant, the sounds and smells of delicious food add to the assault on her senses, the heat is stifling, while the “intimateness” of the city flat makes it seem like the walls are closing in.
In such instances, no amount of trippy filmmaking and psychological imagery can express a state of mind the way a gait can. There is literally no actress in India today who can speak so loudly with her eyes; Shefali Shah’s withering glances are stuff of legend, more so because she has become the ultimate cinematic poster-child of marital discord. She is on Dil Dhadakne Do’s middleclass cruise ship here, too, inextricably connected to a husband that doesn’t need to cheat on her to let her down.
Juice is a terrific short film without being too understated. It hits close to many homes that don’t even recognize that a Juice is unraveling amidst them even as they read this. The film might seem like it ends on a high – through a victorious gesture of not feminism but humanism. But it really is an everyday tragedy. An indicator is the way a background score seeps in during the final seconds, just as Manju is about to explode. As she walks purposefully towards the living room populated by men, the first sliver of melancholic strings slip in. On one hand, it is the maker punctuating a moment through his craft.
But on the other, it’s a male director perhaps subconsciously acknowledging that the music signifies the precise moment it becomes a “movie” – a rare fantasy that might be veering away from hard truths. Because this is the (badass) portion that probably never happens in real-life households. Which is why, here, it becomes a strong story reacting to life rather than reflecting it. In a few seconds, the music disappears as Manju introspects in front of a cooler. She isn’t making eye contact with her husband yet. This feels real.
And the music reappears as soon as she glares at him – with aggression and assertion and betrayal and confidence and daggers that have replaced a million failed words. This is the film.
Watch Juice here: