Director: Sudeep Elamon, Goutham Soorya
Cast: Sudev Nair, Devaki Rajendran
“An honorable human relationship … in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.”
– Adrienne Rich
Sleeplessly Yours, directed by debutants Sudip Elamon and Gautham Soorya, tells a strange and unique story: it is about two young lovers deciding to go sleepless for a few days and the consequences that follow their forced insomnia. The film follows a visual pattern and narrative structure of the gradual disorientation – or their ‘re-orientation’ to a sleepless life, that means relentless wakefulness and endless face-to-face with each other.
It is Manasi, a yoga instructor and Jessy, an upcoming documentary filmmaker, who venture into this weird adventure. Theirs is a relationship that began with a chance meeting when they were instantly attracted to each other, and which gradually grew into love and finally, a living together arrangement. There are only a few other characters who inhabit their insomniac world. Manasi has a very caring boss, who is the doctor at the instruction centre, and Jessy has his bosom friend Venu. These two and the woman house owner who stays downstairs constitute the social world they inhabit. All of them are sympathetic to the young lovers, always trying to help them to settle and lead a normal day/night wake/sleep life. Maybe it is the humdrum repetition of daily life and the indefinite bonding they are unable to settle in, that drives them to experiment with life in its duration, by deciding to fight sleep and stay awake. Though it begins in a playful manner, hour by hour, day-night by day-night, their decision gathers a kind of gravity and seriousness that they succumb to; and it is Manasi who is more insistent about sticking to their uncanny decision and consistently prevents Jessy from breaking the keep-awake spell.
The film begins when Jessy wakes up from the non-sleep pact; he finds himself alone in his house. Manasi is missing and he is totally clueless as to what actually happened between them in the previous hours. He has only some hazy, disconnected memories. There begins his struggle to re-member the flashes and fragments of memory from the earlier days. Aided by his friend, he tries to retrace his steps, and piece together whatever he could gather from the shambles of their sleepless hours. It is a journey that plunges him into a void without any temporal or spatial coordinates, and is fluid like a dream or a nightmare.
Sleep and wakefulness, like night and day, life and death, constitute the two halves, the warp and woof of a whole; they complement and nourish each other; one cannot exist or make sense without the other. But in rare instances when one bursts into the other, rising from below to break the seemingly placid surface of the other, everything goes haywire. When the nightly dreams persist into daylight, it can wreak havoc with the rules of the day, as wakefulness and light can be blinding for a dreamer. Here, the lovers too are two halves that are eternally disparate yet fatally bonded together to make a whole, or to seek the experience of love. It is separation and difference, light and shade, that makes possible the togetherness of bonding and the experience of love. Once one half voids or overwhelms the other, the very logic of the weave is set loose, and all notions that underlie life unwind and get entangled; the boundaries between right and wrong, fantasy and experience, action and imagination, past and present dissolve into the chaotic flow of life, and assume demonic proportions. As they venture together, both Manasi and Jessy increasingly begin to lose their temper, and random things – words, gestures, memories – begin to irritate them, plunging them into confused and violent reactions. Eventually, they find each other’s company insufferable. In fact, when he wakes up, Jessy even fears if he has killed her during one of their violent encounters.
Tying themselves into a state of forced sleeplessness, they are slowly unhinged from the ‘normal’ diurnal/nocturnal modes of understanding and experiencing; the fatal lure of eternal wakefulness plunges them into eerie sensations and revelations about themselves and the world, derailing the ‘composition’ of their love. Love, as Alain Badiou reminds us, is not the merging of the two into one, but a contingent and disconcerting event, on the basis of which love can start and flourish. For Badiou, ‘Love isn’t simply about two people meeting and their inward-looking relationship: it is a construction, a life that is being made, no longer from the perspective of One but from the perspective of Two’ (In Praise of Love). When they try to be one as a singular continuous, time and space, memory and experience, reality and dream all get mushy. On the one side is the gradual tiring out of the senses and a strange kind of edginess that sleeplessness triggers, on the other is the burst of euphoric intensities that they slide into triggering them into arguments and aimless rides through the city nights. Certain fragments of thoughts, confused sensations, vague sights, random dialogues, faded memories and nightmares begin to fill the void that sleeplessness opens up between them.
After waking up, Jessy realises that he really doesn’t know anything about her past or whereabouts, however desperately he tries to remember. One shard of memory that emerges is Manasi mentioning a bridge that connects two disparate worlds: are those worlds her past and present, the world and them, or is it her and him? He has no answers. But at the end of the film we find him standing on a bridge and gazing upon another bridge parallel to it, where a train is running in the opposite direction, and he has a vision of Manasi in it. Is he imagining it? Or is it for real? Is it his final realisation that their lives and love are parallels that will never meet? In that sense, isn’t every love relationship, if stripped of its day-night, conscious-unconscious weave, despairingly and irreparably so?
In tune with the mental state of the characters struggling to escape from the clutches of sleep, forcing themselves into actions and activities that will keep them awake like riding through the city at night, prodding each other, and getting into silly arguments, the film too follows a visual style that is edgy and unsteady, bleary and disturbed. Night and day, memories and actions, movement and stillness, all merge and mix and get fuzzy and confused. The cityscape by night and their wanderings through its desolate streets lit by hazy street lamps, and the human drama of love that unravels beneath them, all envision a certain kind of ennui that contemporary life and love seems to be steeped in.