Director: Tushar Singhal
Streaming on: YouTube
With most of India abandoning all caution and grasping at straws of normalcy after the second Covid-19 wave, it’s easy to forget that we aren’t the same people anymore. As agonizing as the anatomy of forced isolation – lockdown, quarantine, social distancing, testing – has been, it has humbled the human race. It made us confront our greatest fear: time. With time came the ability to introspect and see things in broad daylight, and in some cases, acknowledge the contradictions of civilization. Most obvious is the irony of being caged in a world that has privatized the idea of freedom.
A simple, thoughtful short like Rabbithole – directed by Tushar Singhal – captures this marriage of time and perspective. I’ve watched a lot of ‘lockdown films’ over the last 18 months, but very few actually understand the visual rhythm of living. Seeing the same thing differently is often more powerful than seeing different things. Images that we used to absent-mindedly consume on an everyday basis – the shape of a car, a neighbouring building, the face of a security guard – suddenly make a deeper impression. We find a little more meaning in the blur of mundanity. In Rabbithole, a young man at the end of his mandatory 14-day quarantine after contracting the virus is bored stiff. He wants to leave his apartment, but discovers that he needs to stay in for 3 more days.
The short begins with him doing what most did – adopt a temporary hobby, which in his case is photography – to survive the indoor stint. Or maybe he’s already a professional photographer, left with no choice but to look at the world from behind closed doors. (Translation: Observing his surroundings through a new lens). He clicks pictures from his window. He is also pet-sitting a friend’s rabbit. Over the next few days, he notices the rabbit and its cage a little more closely, the way perhaps a prisoner might look at animals in a zoo – like kindred souls discovering each other in the most unlikely circumstances.
The 11-minute film is fairly basic in its messaging, but the little details are nice. The metal grill – of a window, of a cage, of a door – becomes a recurring, if slightly overstated, visual metaphor. He is seen clicking photos of not ‘nature’ but of an old neighbour spending the final years of his own life behind a window grill. His friend’s voice note giving him instructions to ‘play’ with the rabbit is worded well – “close the windows, be careful of wires” – as though to foreshadow our own hesitance to fully leave our cages once Covid is history. The society secretary has the most typical society-secretary voice – invoking the image of stubborn, self-important, retired Indian men who use a housing society as the only medium to stay relevant in their twilight years. The filming of the young man’s ‘relationship’ with the rabbit is unfussy and quiet, staying in sync with his routine, without really overplaying the drama of enlightenment. Scenes are spread across three different parts of a day – dusk, night, morning – to evoke a sense of lived-in quarantine.
I wonder what came first: the clever title or the choice of mammal. That it’s hard to tell only bolsters the modest but assured vibe of the film. The sight of a man using an oximeter is unsettling, but it says something that the sight of a rabbit hopping out of a cage is the ultimate feel-good tragedy.