Director: Siddharth Gupt
Cast: Varsha, Baljinder Kaur
It’s normal to be a little wary when the length of a short film exceeds ten minutes. After twenty, it enters the no-man’s-land too-long-to-be-short and too-short-to-be-feature category. Ironically, this relaxed running time – 25 minutes – is one of the few things working in favour of Rupali. Some films thrive on getting viewers familiar with its protagonist: a lot of tight close-ups, passive facial expressions, jittery eyes, studied silences – moments that are usually ‘edited’ out of the script in a plot-heavy tale.
But often, the only way to empathize with strange people on screen is to be forcibly dropped into their uneventful setup. And then just observe them. We have no choice but to accept, or even reject, their environment. Irrespective of a sluggish pace, the more we see of some characters, the more involved – either positively or negatively – we get with their surroundings. More so, if these faces are exceptionally young or frightfully old, given that verbal communication tends to then be quite a struggle.
In this case, we ride along with Rupali (Varsha), a small-town Haryanvi schoolgirl struggling to adapt to the complexities of puberty, both physically and mentally.
In simple terms, Rupali plays cricket with the boys and can’t relate to her gossipy girlfriends (“Mature ho gayi,” they gleefully cackle, when she complains of fever). Conventionally, she’s what you’d call a “tomboy”. But there’s a little more conflict and depth to this label in non-urban regions. Her mind, as well as her body, is swirling with confusion.
She is excluded from ‘boy talk’ and banter in cricket fields – the kind of blossoming vulgarity (“my head was in her junk”) that eventually leads to ‘harmless’ habits like eve teasing. Every night, she is teased by three men following her home on an ominously-moving bike. It dawns upon her, slowly, that these idiots are merely natural extensions of her playground buddies.
On the other hand, the women in her life – notice how only the mother (a free-flowing Baljinder Kaur) and her lady friend routinely discuss Rupali’s menstrual bleeding in her bedroom, and we hear a shy male voice from outside the door, offering a doctor’s visit if “it” is painful – seem to be morphing into one another. Her sahelis casually swipe aside rooted misogyny on the streets with the air of her housewife-mother willfully serving rotis to the man of the house. The culture she so playfully occupies is also the one that’s now jolting her into womanhood. She is torn between two worlds, unable to decipher all these changes.
All this is evident, though, only if you’re willing to forgive the craft of this film. Or if you’re willing to be patient and let the shabby first ten minutes pass by. The sound is a bit wayward, and it takes a while to convince us to look deeper. But the amateur “look” – a jerky home-video-ish camera capturing unremarkable, quiet, seemingly mundane moments – partially works because of the young performers.
None of them seem to have an acting background, and thankfully so, because this makes the film occasionally assume the tonal awkwardness of a documentary (the language, accents, taunts – all very lived-in), just on the cusp of becoming a whimsical social-message drama. Much like its titular personality, Rupali, the film, needs a little help and understanding. The end, too, is a bit abrupt, but is there ever a definite end to growing up?
Watch Rupali here: