Wednesday 5 August 2020

S Durga [2017]

Sasidharan’s S Durga is drenched in bleak nihilism, psychedelia and angst – so much so, that it jolts you as much by its confrontational aesthetic choices, as by its lashing critique on reeking patriarchy, male gaze and casual "othering" on religious, ethnic or even linguistic grounds. The film faced enormous hostility from the right for being provocatively titled Sexy Durga initially, even to the point of its screening in IFFI being blocked where it was included in the competitive section. Like his blistering previous film Ozhivudivasathe Kali, this too opened with documentary realism – and an extended one at that – which disturbingly set the context; the violence and voyeurism in a religious celebration – ironically involving a goddess worshipped as a symbol of feminine power – formed a striking contrast to its main narrative where gender and religious violence are lurking at every corner. Set over the course of a single night – and an increasingly nightmarish one at that – it starts off with Durga (Rajshri Deshpande), a Hindu woman, and Kabeer (Kannan Nayar), her Muslim boyfriend, planning to elope, ostensibly on account of their interfaith relationship. Hoping to reach the railway station to catch a train to somewhere (anywhere), they’re given a lift by a couple of guys in a minivan on a deserted highway. However, as lecherous, bullying guys join them in the car, the ride becomes a trip through hell – though, in a pungently ironic note, they keep reiterating that their intent is to protect Durga from the wolves outside. The largely unscripted narrative and deceptively audacious long takes constantly reminded me of Sasidharan’s previous film, even if this was stylistically very different for being an incredibly visceral and nerve-wracking work.

Director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Genre: Drama/Road Movie
Language: Malayalam
Country: India

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