Director: Ganesh Shetty
Cast: Amit Sial, Pooja Upasana, Yateen Karyekar
You can always tell when a new storyteller is exploring his own environment. There’s a little information in each frame, details bursting through without screaming for attention, a little reverence for a time gone by, and most importantly, a belated understanding of a homegrown culture. Like an adult carving through melancholy to identify what drove him away. It’s the filmmaker’s rather tricky job to make this inherent familiarity seem both personal and accessible at the same time.
Ganesh Shetty’s Paroksh, a short set in Mangalore with characters communicating in the local language (Tulu), is an example. It tells a tale of a rural couple (Amit Sial, Pooja Upasana) struggling with a noisy ‘supernatural’ force that haunts their area every night. And as the old saying goes: you fear what you don’t understand. Or to contextualize this further: you fear, fathom, divine and monetize what you don’t understand.
In hindsight, the nocturnal nature of these strange occurrences makes sense, too, if one subscribes to the philosophy that even spirits have to earn a living. Think about this sentence when the end credits roll.
Shetty’s film isn’t a condescending smirk to his homeland, but more of a playful wrap on the knuckles, an affectionate nod to certain attributes he has perhaps grown up to detest
On first watch, the larger strokes are obvious: an evolving land where modernity still flirts awkwardly with tradition, the discomforting blurriness of the urban-rural disconnect, an India in which blind faith and superstition still threaten to supersede physical progress and the giant leaps of a technological revolution.
But Shetty’s film isn’t a condescending smirk to his homeland, but more of a playful wrap on the knuckles, an affectionate nod to certain attributes he has perhaps grown up to detest. It’s the kind of grammar he could’ve only developed after shifting away from his roots, to Mumbai, to Bollywood – a distant, practical gaze that is often required to dissect the romanticism of growing up in smaller, ‘innocent’ towns.
If I were to design a story set in my own hometown of Ahmedabad, I’d barely be able to contain my sarcasm about its notorious frog-in-pond mentality and behind-closed-doors hypocrisy. Yet, Shetty stays clear from this patronizing tone, and instead makes a communicative film that panders to our curiosity.
Though it eventually plays out more like a joke with a punchline, Paroksh has the personality of a funny, sobering incident recalled at family gatherings by its much-wiser protagonists. One can almost hear their soft chuckles turning into breathless guffawing and self-derogatory headshaking – the kind of humour necessary for personal advancement. It’s easy to sense an intimacy to Shetty’s vision, as if he were narrating a simple comic panel tale in the imagination of his characters narrating their own “once upon a time” experience. The faux background score and dramatic gravity of its performances only adds to its memory-ish flavour.
Good storytellers have long been known as branded time-travel machines; they transport us, momentarily, into the exotic universe they’ve created, willing us to experience it the way they want us to.
Lately, however, a breed of them has inculcated the essence of good tour guides – not over enthusiastic salespeople, and just about accommodating and self-aware enough to let us explore their own land through their own honest eyes. They don’t create as much as remember. They don’t concoct as much as interpret.
And, at times, even if it’s through a competently made – and not particularly outstanding – short film, it’s all we need to tap the hidden (Hindi translation: Paroksh) tourist in us.
Watch the film here: