Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast: Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, Vineet Singh
Meena (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) is stuck between feeling like a woman and a wife. She is one of many faceless immigrants in Mumbai’s teeming slum area. The tin roof and tin door is a badge of inadequacy for her jobless husband, Lallan (Vineet Singh), who has been laid off recently. His crabby mother resents Meena for having to be the family’s sole breadwinner by working at a sewing factory. According to her, Meena doesn’t cater to clients; she “caters” to clients.
Meena cooks, dresses their son for school and silently soothes Lallan’s wounded ego. She is stifled at home, and wants to feel empowered at work – but she can’t. She is in a daze while sewing, and eats lunch alone in this same daze.
One particular shot highlights this conflict between patriarchy and independence. We see Meena leave for work with the corners of her sari, not unlike a burkha, respectfully shielding most of her face and torso. The camera stays with her. As soon as she is out of eyesight, she frees her face, chucking away the “façade” and taking visibly confident strides.
In a regular mainstream film, this moment would have been punctuated with a spirited “zindagi” anthem. Here, there is no such song. Just the inaudible noise in her head, translated into the strings of an introspective Gustavo Santaolalla-esque score. Because seconds later, she is struggling to keep afloat again in front of her sewing machine. There is no breaking out.
Towards the end of this 16-minute film, too, there’s a scene that intercuts between Meena in a local train and Lallan on the tracks. They are arguing on the phone. It’s untidy and noisy. It is also suspenseful, the kind of buildup where Hans Zimmer would have a field day with his pacey strings. There is action. There is angst.
Shor captures the tumultuous phase of a couple stuck between feeling like a story and a cautionary tale
But again, except for the urgency of their conversation, and the sounds that surround them, we hear nothing else. This could have easily gone wrong in a film-school sort of way. But it holds. The rawness holds. Even the final words – the only cinematic “dialogue” amidst all the ordinary lines – hold.
This might seem like it’s about Meena and her disillusionment and breaking point. It might seem like this is merely about a lady on the brink.
But it’s actually about a love story: the ugliness in it, the postscript of it, the images after an end-credit scroll, the images that feel less like a movie and more like life. And given that theirs is a marriage presumably inspired by the heightened hues of Bollywood ‘fillums’ – his mother initially taunts him about this – their gloomy situation bears the audiovisual palette of anything but those pastiche melodramas. Their redemption, too, is anything but cinematic. It is unpleasant, and accelerated by crisis and happenstance, much like the bleak real-world faces on which movies and literature are based.
There’s so much going on in Neeraj Ghaywan’s Shor. And it’s not just the noise within. It feels like a world is being built, even though it already exists. This is a short that stays true to the fragility of its environment. It stays loyal to a mood instead of a genre. It captures the tumultuous phase of a couple stuck between feeling like a story and a cautionary tale.
I’d like to believe that there are fundamental strands of young Deepak and Shalu’s romance here from the maker’s acclaimed debut feature, Masaan. But that’s just my over-analytical mind. It is about many Leelas and many Lallans – even the ones that didn’t make it. Shor is, after all, quiet and affecting. It is the prelude to a promising career in storytelling. It is what it is.
Watch Shor here: