Director: Arun Fulara
Cast: Shrikant Yadav, Prakash Joshi
Streaming on: MovieSaints
One of the most heartbreaking characters from the Amazon Prime series Made In Heaven wears a despicable face. Played by Vinay Pathak, Mr. Gupta is the gay protagonist’s homophobic landlord. At first, he seems to be just another hypocritical alpha male. He rigs his unsuspecting tenant’s house with cameras to record proof of the man’s “errant sexuality”. It’s only once he’s caught watching these videos himself do we sense a repressed spirit beneath his bitterness. In a poignant scene, Mr. Gupta’s apology features an admission of envy for the younger man – he hints at a history that was muffled to conform to a culturally acceptable future. By day, he plays the role of a heterosexual family man, but by night, he dreams of escaping a closet that was latched shut decades ago. He accepts the ignominy of living a lie in return for the peace of living a life.
Arun Fulara’s sparse 10-minute short, Sunday, is in some sense a Gupta spin-off. It sheds a shy light on the everyday existence of a middle-class India that isn’t allowed to earn the privilege of being courageous. The film is centered on a middle-aged Maharashtrian man, Kamble, who visits a local hair-cutting saloon every Sunday to be “touched” by a new barber-boy he is attracted to. That may sound impure, creepy even, but the way Fulara films it reveals a tragic tenderness about the married man. Maybe Kamble is a difficult fellow at work, maybe he bullies effeminate colleagues and tenants, maybe he is a passive husband, maybe he is the villain of other stories. But for an hour, every Sunday, he is just another guy nursing a crush on an unattainable person. He looks forward to this clandestine feeling – the only allowance he affords himself in his years of upstanding manhood. In another country, in another time, he may have chosen to become the cause rather than the consequence.
I like the little touches in Sunday, pun unintended. A haircut is probably the most casually intimate routine for humans: a stranger’s fingers push the borders of appropriate physical contact under the guise of style and grooming. A face massage is considered perfectly decent, without taking into account the character of both people involved. Then there’s the subtext. A same-sex attraction is equated with an interfaith affair: A chaste Hindu, Kamble, is infatuated with a handsome Muslim boy, Jaan. Kamble bides his time in a way that allows him to sync with Jaan’s availability. His entire week ahead depends on this fleeting interaction. He opts for one service every Sunday – never a shave and haircut together – so that he has an excuse to keep up this weekly ritual. Marathi actor Shrikant Yadav’s performance goes a long way in framing the situation as an innocuous one. There is much to admire in the way he looks tongue-tied, blushes, gets mildly annoyed when his “zone” is interrupted by the noise around him, closes his eyes on the chair as he drifts into his happy space: the way he appears to be a totally different and softer person in the saloon even though we don’t quite know him outside of it.
The viewer is conditioned to imagine somebody like Kamble doing this for vulgar thrills. The stark age difference, too, is a damning factor. But Yadav’s nuanced gait reveals a long-time alternate universe in his head – one where Kamble and Jaan fool around, live together, hold hands, embrace and kiss in public without eliciting crude stares. In his head, they are star-crossed lovers destined to part so that they can keep uniting in broad daylight. When the boy suggests shaving off Kamble’s beloved moustache, the actor’s bashful reaction is disarming. We instantly know that he will consider the new look as a romantic request; the sequel might feature him sacrificing the moustache just to see Jaan smile. His reaction also says more about social stigmas in India than any preachy, dialogue-heavy narrative can. After all, the ignominy of living a life is supposed to outweigh the peace of living a lie.