Director: Tabish Shaikh
Cast: Shashikant Gadhe
The friendly neighbourhood tea vendor knocks loudly on the door. When the lonely old man opens it, the boy hands him his daily cuppa with a packet of biscuits, urging him to fix the broken doorbell so that he doesn’t miss any potential visitors. “But who comes to meet me, anyway?” the old man replies, forlornly, driving home the self-pitying funk he’s in – if it wasn’t already clear from his modest routine, fast-fading gait and the ten-minute-long film’s deliberately sluggish pace.
He isn’t even being sarcastic or cynical here; he says it sincerely, like the human equivalent of a tragic, self-explanatory, string-heavy background score. With this self-aware line, he – and the filmmaker – is almost breaking the fourth wall and asking us to feel bad for him, instead of letting the organic sight of his very existence do the “expressing”. These are the conscious words of a character in a film or book, as opposed to being emotions of a withering human.
He is asking us to think about our own parents when we get busy with our lives. He is asking us to believe that his children, who are clearly too busy with their own careers, are the ones at fault for ignoring him – and that he is one of those pure, inhumanly unconditional and traditional parents (a silent successor of Rajesh Khanna’s “sahabji” from Swarg) who have done no wrong except grow mortal.
We see him potter around his humble abode, at a complete loss of what to do with his time. He is bored and depressed, friendless and forsaken, and misses the family he once had. One senses that this isn’t a sudden condition; it has been building up, and yet he looks like one of those “rejected” senior citizens straight out of sterile Life Insurance advertisements. His feeble voice, too, reeks of a “manufactured” kind of remoteness.
The point being: the director makes him an obviously sad and one-dimensional character, who seems to be going through a desperately desolate phase only because perhaps the cameras are on him. He has only the “look” of loneliness to play with, and maybe a few sounds, given that there is nobody for the man to interact with. And this look is drilled into our minds. Not unlike most of Madhur Bhandarkar’s black-or-white caricatures, who exist in a very precise manner to violently drive home – instead of merely suggesting – a righteous message to society.
Even though there are no obvious signs of mainstream manipulation – music, drama, illness or punch lines – this is a different brand of visual manipulation
I can’t help but feel the same about this extremely emotional old man – a carefully honed portrait of rejection and decay – in The End: that he wants our sympathy when his rude son hangs up on him every time he calls, or when he leafs through young photo albums and cries unabashed tears of nostalgia. Even though there are no obvious signs of mainstream manipulation – music, drama, illness or punch lines – this is a different brand of visual manipulation.
Close-ups of his sweaty brow, his anguished eyes, his withering form – these present a silently noisy picture of exactly what and how the filmmaker wants us to feel. Nothing is left to our imagination. It almost seems to be telling us in as many words: if this doesn’t affect you, you are heartless.
In spite of having an ageing father who lives alone in another city, I was left strangely unmoved by this film, which, to be honest, could have used so many ingredients to turn me into a blubbering mess. Or maybe it shouldn’t have used any at all. Maybe that’s the point. Sometimes, there is no need to try so hard to elicit a response when the subject itself is a familiar and nervy one.
Widowed parents and grandparents make for an uncomfortable weight on our conscience. It’s a culture we regret, but cannot avoid. We know they exist, but don’t like being reminded of it, because such is the circle of life. All our guilt needs is a gentle tap: an automatic doorbell, instead of an all-out, bone-shattering knuckle-knock of a film.
Watch The End here: