Director Richard Anthony’s Bloom opens with a view of the blue sky which is imagined as a kind of Garden of Eden; and when we suddenly cut to Chennai during the 2020 lockdown it’s hard not to see it as a kind of hell. A pandemic where people distance themselves socially is hardly the setting for romance. But that’s exactly when Mitra (Mitra Visvesh) and Ashwin (Ashwin Raam) sow the seeds of a tentative relationship. And as the opening visuals suggest, love blooms digitally during a pandemic; on earth, technology is the snake.
Mitra and Ashwin have a low-key relationship that’s limited to Whatsapping and Skyping. Mitra’s bandwidth is limited, too, as she’s taking care of her parents during the pandemic. But the film finds ways to make their flirting on WhatsApp interesting. When Ashwin asks Mitra where she lives (he thinks she lives next door) and finds out that she lives far away, we see a huge ‘DAMN’ next to him. When Mitra is staring at the sky, we see it fill up with a message for Ashwin; she looks down at her phone and sends it. The world inside your phone and the physical world can meld, especially with reduced face-to-face interaction in a pandemic.
And at key points in the relationship between Ashwin and Mitra, the film reflects on itself through Kaber Vasuki’s lines, providing an objective god’s eye view of what’s happening. It feels a bit awkward at first, but it also allows the film to acquire interpretative depth (given its Biblical preamble) without exposition. For instance, when Mitra is confused about whether she went too far with Ashwin you hear “thani paaichala, serndhu neechala, indha maari kelvigalum thaana thonum” which saves Mitra’s dilemma from being reduced to mere guilt in the viewer’s mind.
Though nominally set in the lockdown, you don’t really see the hellish version of it faced by the majority of the nation’s people. The lockdown seems like a stylization or a device to explore how two people in relative isolation might reach out to each other when forced to stay physically apart. For both Ashwin and Mitra, the lockdown isn’t an existential threat. They appear to be financially secure (by themselves or through their parents) and their problem with the lockdown is that it restricts what they can do. Ashwin, who produces music and performs, is naturally hurt by the lockdown. For Mitra, the lockdown means that she can’t go back to her own life in Bangalore. It’s about freedom for both, not survival.
But, in a sense, the lockdown also represents their relationship which wouldn’t have begun without it. At intervals, it poses existential threats, like whether Mitra should go back to Bangalore so she can have her own space or remain in Chennai near Ashwin. Just as it did to the larger world, the pandemic introduces uncertainty and doubt into the microcosm of their relationship. We don’t know how and when the pandemic is going to end and we aren’t sure what might happen to Ashwin and Mitra. Their interactions are sometimes awkward and sometimes familiar because the relationship has barely begun, thanks to the lockdown.
Ashwin could be articulating the film’s attitude to the pandemic when he says that while he knows its real world impact, and he finds it too complicated to process. So, he watches films (instead of the news) and it helps him cope. It’s not so much a denial of reality than a suggestion that films that help you cope are not necessarily an escape from reality. The pandemic, after all, plays God in Bloom.