Director: Shubham Yogi
Cast: Sumeet Vyas, Amrita Puri
Based on a short story by Aseem Kaul, SUNO, directed by Shubham Yogi, is an alarming film. And I hate using this phrase, but it is timely, especially in the slipstream of the Kabir Singh/Arjun Reddy discourse currently engulfing the internet. I’m not saying this short needs to be seen, or that you are an A-grade loser if you don’t agree with it. But SUNO certainly merits a place in the upper pantheons of art that does more than just lazily ride the wave of the #Metoo movement. The title in caps aside, there is nothing – not the treatment, not the performances, the chemistry, not even the bareboned visual style (reminiscent of another underrated Sumeet Vyas-starring marital drama, Ribbon) – to suggest that this is a “social message” film. In fact, SUNO counts on the fact that not even its own characters are aware that they occupy an important narrative.
An ordinary, young urban couple, the kind you’d imagine to have strong opinions on the gender politics of the latest Bollywood film, find themselves in a strange situation after what is presumably an adventurous (bondage?) sex session leaves the wife with a black eye. People get concerned – is her husband a wife-beater? People talk. But they look so compatible and happy together. The societal gaze towards her changes, and before they know it, the two become an unwitting cautionary tale for the liberal urban elite. The wife (Amrita Puri; I wish we see more of her) is drawn into a support group, where she learns, through a deeper discussion of patriarchal power dynamics, that perhaps her husband’s seemingly playful actions weren’t as accidental as they seemed. The significance of consent and domestic abuse – so often hidden in the mundanity of everyday expressions and sociocultural hierarchy – abruptly dawns upon this film’s viewers just as it dawns upon the couple within it. The twist is emotional rather than physical.
We then find ourselves wondering how abuse, or various cousins of it, quietly seeps into the most unassuming corners of our existence. The way a husband reasons with his wife, the way he subconsciously yanks her towards him, the way his eyes burn when she is influenced by anyone but him. Evidently, not even progressive sexual conditioning is bereft of this language. The director does a fine, and appropriately unspectacular, job of translating this knotty tension to the screen. The entire film plays out in casual dialogue, in living rooms and bedrooms and cars, the mostly-handheld camera trembling in their private space, further adding to the uneasy feeling (“triggering” is the term) of their circumstances. That SUNO doesn’t feel the need to literally depict the night in flashbacks is a testament to the makers’ understanding of how there might never be only one version of an incident – and that a man and a woman are built to interpret it differently. A visual representation of it (like Pink did, in its end credits) might defeat the film’s point. It’s usually her word against his, but in this case it’s their word against itself.
But I suspect the true success of a film like this lies in its relationship with the audience. It challenges our inherent biases; how effective it is, then, depends on our ability to acknowledge our own failings. For instance, I found myself siding with the man (until the final shot), willing his wife to not overreact and get carried away with the clannish noise of the moment. It’s just an accident, I thought. No big deal, I said. These three words, however, form a phrase that thrives on the stereotypical perception of its purpose. Much like the title, “Suno,” an intimate term of addressment subconsciously used to express ownership of, and familiarity with, the listener. In the process, we tend to forget the real meaning of the word. One that doesn’t just ask for attention, but perhaps on the quietest of occasions, actually cries out for it.