Director: Raj Rishi More
Cast: Divya Sharmaa
There’s a lot to be said about what I call “The Lunchbox” syndrome – that is, cinema that thrives on the wordlessness of Indian middle-class life. We’ve seen the minimalist montages: housewife wakes up, treats her cup of tea as the calm before the storm, dives into her chores, meticulously arranges the husband’s dabba, goes about her thankless routine quietly. Yet, there’s a story in the clangs of those utensils and the whistles of the pressure cooker, and in the stillness of her daydreams as identical high-rises block her vast worldview. There’s a story in all the sights and sounds of a country that tends to omit them while telling its own stories.
Many filmmakers might employ this day-in-the-life-of ‘silence’ as a gimmick, yet there are a few – Zoya Akhtar for her Lust Stories segment, and now Raj Rishi More in the short, Rozana – that understand their characters well enough to know that the silence is simply a soundtrack to the chaotic noise in their heads. It’s deafening when these protagonists think so much that they have nothing left to say.
Rozana shows us a woman (Divya Sharmaa) on autopilot, too. She likes to keep herself busy, but there is only so much she can do in an apartment that accommodates two. A little after noon, she is done with her “duties”. It’s this silence she both cherishes and fears. She stares at the hundreds of identical concrete boxes opposite hers – are there other spirits trapped within those grills too? It’s not an unusual shot these days; Mumbai’s “urban jungle” framed by a window is a director’s favourite visual metaphor.
The notable part about Rozana is that, intentionally or not, there seems to be some thought embedded within its form. For example, these tiny pockets of nothingness aside, there comes a portion when the lights go out. Some candles are lit. This is evidently the most exciting – and cinematic – part of her day. She spends this time with a stranger she once loved. The ‘darkness’ enveloping her flat, then, is not just an aesthetic decision or romantic device – it stands for the cover of night that forbidden unions operate under; they thrive on being hidden, and communicate when nobody is looking. It’s also when we understand why this short has no voices – because, in the larger scheme of things, neither do they.
When her husband returns (of course, he’s always on his phone), we see on her face the muted agony of a person who has had to conform at the cost of her natural identity. She is in jail, but it’s a “civilized” one. With just a few restrained flashbacks (the piano adds that tinge of melancholy), we find ourselves not wanting to imagine the horrors she must have faced to lead this peaceful and politically correct life. The volume is stitched deep into her tranquility.
The makers convey this strong message – one that is relevant to millions of subdued spirits like hers – without succumbing to the excesses that a controversial theme might otherwise tempt. There is an endless continuity to its mood that adds to her common tragedy. It’s not often that images alone tell a story, forget painting an entire history or exposing a rooted culture.