Director: Amit Masurkar
Cast: Vidya Malavade
Perhaps the steepest learning curve for a short-film maker is the economization of its narrative. It requires the kind of sensibility-organizing that subtracts, not expands – an understanding of what not to show to tell a story in the most effective way possible. For instance, in Amit Masurkar’s Life After, every shot has a reason. None of them feel like mood fillers.
This quiet film deals an oft-understated part of a woman’s battle against breast cancer. While it’s natural to feel relieved and fortunate to survive a cancer of any sort, it’s another thing to compromise and live with the scars of its surgery. The type of gloom this woman (Vidya Malavade) experiences is generally termed a selfish one. While nobody exists for her in this phase, she silently blames everyone else for willing her to exist. She mops around within the confines of her flat, privately, only so she doesn’t have to hear someone tell her she’s “lucky to be alive”. She doesn’t feel so lucky. For her, the alteration of her body to simply survive – the removal of its part that allegedly defines her sexuality in society – is not an acceptable form of collateral damage.
For Vidya, the alteration of her body to simply survive – the removal of its part that allegedly defines her sexuality in society – is not an acceptable form of collateral damage.
By the time she comes home from the hospital in the first shot, this intensely personal loss has already dawned upon her. Here, she isn’t a mother happy to see or be alive for her son right now, but simply a lady ashamed to admit she is unsatisfied with this kind of survival. When she looks at her own pale reflection in a mirror, she probably wonders if there’s any point to touch up her face again. Internal beauty is overrated. Even the television reminds her with its unremitting obsession with fashion and physicality.
The next shot has her filtering out her lingerie drawer, solemnly preparing for her this afterlife. Functionality: A baggy loose t-shirt instead, there is no curve to outline. Faint strands of a cello, which initially seem a little dramatic and silent-filmy in context of her depression, sound out her blank stares. A curtain swaying to the breeze – another image that, along with the cello, will come a full circle. She scrolls through older “prettier” photographs of herself on Facebook, gets irritated with her maid, and spends the evening observing the city from her window, no doubt deciding to get back to her work routine, because even her soft-spoken husband seemed a little startled today. This is where she gradually begins caring again about those around her.
At office, she is welcomed with the kind of sympathetic voices she abhors, and gets down to business. Her funk has acquired a different space now. She notices a get-well-soon sketch from her son – that of her on the cello. She remembers her son, her family, finally. They’ve been supportive and patient. It makes her smile. The cello. Back home early, she takes it out from behind a cupboard, dusts it off and prepares to play it.
Masurkar shows her manually doing these activities in real time; we sense the buildup. She tunes the instrument, and for the briefest second, adjusts it over her left shoulder, noticing how it feels slightly different now. This alien arrangement makes her tense. And then she feels that breeze blowing through the curtain again – the same dignified breeze that introduced the significance of the cello earlier. This time, it feels better.
At office, she is welcomed with the kind of sympathetic voices she abhors, and gets down to business.
This moment, where she feels something in her click, where her perception of healing puts everything into perspective, could have perhaps been given a little more time. She breaks into a sedate, anxious rendition of Bach’s cello suite 1, before letting it take complete hold of her. It’s not as simple as her being a changed woman after this, which, to be fair, isn’t what Masurkar suggests – but there seems to be a slight hurry to simplify what has otherwise been a delightfully minimalistic, deceptively complex journey so far.
With a concluding happy-family shot at the table, this ad-film ending is in line with the opening PSA slate of breast-cancer statistics. This is when we’re deliberately yanked out of her mind, her private tale; she is a mother, and a wife, all over again. I’m not sure if this selflessness is her happy ending, but it’s unfortunately the only way we perceive normalcy in this world.
I’m not sure if the selflessness is Vidya’s happy ending, but it’s unfortunately the only way we perceive normalcy in this world.
While his debut feature-length indie Sulemani Keeda warranted a verbose style unchecked by visual grammar, Masurkar proves with Life After that he can walk both sides of the cinematic bridge. This versatility, and necessary evolution of his storytelling – especially with the way Malavade becomes a faceless lady (and not “that Chak De! India goalie”) – is heartening to see. This is, for both of them, the beginning of an essential life after their previous one.