Kajal Short Film Review: The Warrior Within, Film Companion

Director: Paakhi A Tyrewala

Cast: Salony Luthra, Sunil Palwan, Aniket More

Things have escalated quickly. It’s now difficult to make a “female-oriented” film without making a statement, just as it’s apparently unfeasible to make a nationalistic film without being jingoistic. Either way, even a sense of good intent seems hollow these days, like a formula concocted to capitalize upon a country’s trending flaws. Kajal, directed by Paakhi A Tyrewala, has the line ‘A woman’s fight for survival in a world dominated by men’ as part of its YouTube title. Ideally, this might be something viewers should have the joy of discovering on their own. It’s silly to ‘present’ the film with an obvious tagline – either the makers don’t trust it to convey what they want it to, or they want us to view it through the fixed lens of cinematic activism.

It’s a pity, because while most films (especially shorts, with their limited resources) insist on spelling this out with their words, Kajal is actually one that works beyond its labels. A silent rage runs through its images.

Kajal is more methodical in its protagonist’s struggle between imploding and exploding

It opens with an empty office after closing hours. A girl dutifully waits for her boss to sign off on a document. The man has been gabbing away on his phone for ages. But she has waited. Downstairs, while leaving, she resists catcalls from an errant security guard. At the bus stop past midnight, she resists the male gaze. Again, she waits. A shady chap, however, hastily leaves behind a ‘package’ after being spooked by a nosy cop. This is the turning point of the 20-minute film – from hereon, she stops waiting and we start waiting. We wait for her to transform into somewhat of a loaded gun. A few minutes later, after she reaches home to her misogynistic betting-thug husband, she discovers the contents of the mysterious package. Slowly, we notice a subtle change in actress Salony Luthra’s body language. Her striking resemblance to Deepika Padukone becomes a little more apparent. She is no more a faceless spectator.

In the most evocative scene of the film, at night, as her husband sleeps, she reacts to the package in a way that enables us to understand her history – her strangely muted psyche – far better than any traumatic flashback might have done. In most other stories, this moment would have been gimmicky, but Kajal is more methodical in its protagonist’s struggle between imploding and exploding. Her next day is a little more rebellious, but not in a triumphant-background-score sort of way. Her kohl-lined eyes are a statement – a warrior has transcended the war with a smudge of gunpowder – not to us, but to the characters in her testosterone-driven environment. She is the colour in their grey-scale background.

Kajal works beyond its labels. A silent rage runs through its images

Yes, Kajal is about a young woman quite literally finding a “device” of empowerment. But more importantly, it also works as an independent character piece, a psychological portrait – where empowerment and confidence are simply byproducts of an individual’s coming-of-age phase. We don’t hear her voice, and we don’t see another woman – not even in passing – in the film. This adds to its dystopian tone, making her seem like she is perhaps the last survivor of her kind on the planet – an emotion not unfamiliar to her urban-isolated contemporaries. Only, the act of lining her eyes with kohl requires her to look into the mirror. It projects as much as reflects. Suddenly, she isn’t alone.

Rating:   star

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