Director: Rahul Nangia
Cast: Sayani Gupta, Arjun Radhakrishnan
Tu, much like a recent short film named Rogan Josh, is located in a manner that requires it to present the protagonists’ situation – the history of it, the sociocultural identity and politics of it – through a casual exchange of dialogue. Hindi cinema isn’t known for subtle exposition, but Tu comes very close to organically integrating the context of an entire story into a single scene. All they have is a boy and a girl in a room, a cellphone and ambient sounds, to depict precisely why their moment here, on this day, is worth filming in order to hint at a broader and more generic struggle.
For instance, it has to be clear in less than six minutes that his name is Murtaza and hers, Supriya, and that the pressure of a prohibited inter-faith relationship is weighing down on the pureness of their love. Even though theirs is a romantic encounter with limited time, it also has to be clear that he is scared of his own family and that she has a fiancé. She has to come across as a little more spontaneous (cue cigarette smoking), and he a bit cautious (works at his father’s shop) – all this through a regular conversation, an exchange of reactions, that must transcend the emptiness of sweet nothings. Their meeting might have to be designed to be informative to viewers watching a film, but in terms of their own lives, the makers must keep in mind that this is just another surreptitious sexual encounter on just another day that, they hope, will not be their last together. There is to be a balance of normalcy and urgency to it. It shouldn’t be obvious that they are expressing themselves in a way that explicitly explains the story.
I like the littler audiovisual details within this limited palette. For instance, she looks at the cellphone footage of the two fooling around on the rocks off a South Mumbai Promenade. Anyone familiar with the city might recognize the authentic geography – the “lovers’ promenades” over time have become not just a symbol of the city’s space crunch, but also a defiant shield against the prying eyes of society…a moment-stealing manifestation of rocky, desperate togetherness. On these rocks, barriers like religion and caste and class melt away, for burkhas, skirts and salwars unite to form identical silhouettes against the setting sun. In Tu, there’s also the faint chant of namaz in the area, as well as the background noise of a railway station. Combined together, these details paint a familiar picture – of intolerance, stubborn tradition and impending tragedy. Even their playfulness is tinged with anxiety.
Especially remarkable is the way the filmmaker handles the final few seconds. On one hand, we see the couple panicking, darting across the room, stuck in a worst-case scenario, as their defence mechanism overrules a sense of quiet rationalism. On the other hand, we hear them speak – in the tone that preceded the panic, collected and coherent, as if their minds are conspiring to communicate in spite of their flailing bodies. This is oddly reminiscent of that scene in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge; Raj and Simran wordlessly stare at each other on the terrace, their worried eyes transfixed on one another, even as we hear their voices discuss the best possible options and outcomes. This is the film telling us: this is what they mean to say, even if their bodies aren’t in the position to do so. It’s only through economical, evocative shorts like Tu that we truly learn about the futility of choice – between calmness and chaos, saying and doing – in the real world.