Thought Box



by Ramchandra PN June 1 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins, 27 secs

Saumesh Bangera’s cinema is a perfect manifestation of the phenomenon of democratisation of filmmaking since it got morphed into the digital format, writes Ramchandra PN.

Like some of us have, he would not have actively gone through the rigour of the celluloid era of filmmaking. Yet, it is now possible for a restless creative mind like him to put base in a small town like Mangalore, where he works as an animation technician, and makes films of his choice. This would have been difficult to achieve a couple of decades back, when filmmaking centres were mainly concentrated in big cities that provided the necessary infrastructure for celluloid filmmaking. 

“Phas Gaya Sisyphus’ is a truly independent expression emerging from the ground. Its language is original and its concerns are authentic as they might have probably emerged from a life lived and experienced to the fullest.

Its artistic expression is unfiltered from both the regular film industry as well as from international mentoring events as it has not raised its funds from either of them. Therefore, it has no obligation towards them or to the audience that they think they are catering to.  It could also find itself difficult to get shown in International Film Festivals, not just because it is produced by ‘Empty Pocket Films’ whose pockets are really empty; but also because it has not been made from within the ecosystem that supports and feeds such festivals. The national Film Festivals by and large imitate the choices and world view of the foreign ones; and therefore here too the going might be tough. But never-the-less, the effort-loop for the film to get an audience should be embraced if at all the Sisyphus cycle has to be broken. 

By the virtue of casting Saumesh in some of my films and knowing him to some extent, I have been privy to some of his works – finished or unfinished. I have always been amazed by his clear cinematic vision, which by and large is self-learnt and with the consistency of his worldview that could have probably emerged from a deeply experienced life. There is a certain amount of bleakness to his works; the central character - most often played by himself – is caught in a vortex of his own angst ridden broodings that at times borders towards psychological conditions.  There seems to be no way out.

“Phas Gaya Sisyphus’, a short film of about 16-minutes in length made through crowd funding, is probably his most complete and mature work. Like in his earlier films and some unrealised scripts, the world view in this film is also that of an unwilling helpless man trapped in the whirlpool of circumstances, the resultant hopelessness further worsening the situation. But this film stands out as it effortlessly raises above that dreaded business of self-pity and self-destruction that manifests itself in Sanjay Bansali’s ‘Devdas’ or Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Dev D’.

The plot itself is simple and clear. Hari, a clumsy young outsider, who probably longs for some emotional handholding, sets off from his house to meet his girlfriend. The two of them plan to elope, breaking away from the shackles of the circumstances that they are immersed in. This ‘need’ of the character to break free sets a ground for the film to shred off its nihilist nature, if any. Hari is late and in order to make up for the lost time, he takes an uncharted short-cut to the rendezvous point. On his way to a particular spot in the fields he encounters a masked scarecrow that fearfully exhibits itself standing alone by a lone branchy tree. 

It is at this point that Hari apprehends that ‘time’ for him has stood still, 3.33 PM to be precise as the recurring captions shows us. He also slowly realises much to his frustration that he is struck in that zone around the tree and the scarecrow. The boundaries for this zone are also marked by the two tall palm trees, standing tall far away. In whichever direction he heads away from the zone, he comes back to it from the opposite! He has to be in another space and in another time, for which he is already late. But he is stuck in this place and in this time. As manifested by phone conversations, his girlfriend is already having anxiety pangs – will he ever bite the bullet and show the courage to start a new life?

As more ‘time’ passes in this zone that is limited by the scarecrow, the lone branchy tree and the two tall palm trees, for Hari time continues to get jammed. The ignominy of not being able to keep up his word to his girlfriend, gets to his mind so much that he attempts to hang himself from the tree with the sundry clothes that he is carrying. But much to his dismay he survives as he falls short of length. At this point it would be prudent to mention the mise en scene pattern that Saumesh uses, for without that it would be difficult to authentically interpret the film.

‘Phas Gaya Sisypus’ has a style that is expressive in nature; there is also a sense of aloofness. On one hand there is detachment in the way extreme long shots have been used and on the other, the tactical use of mid shots and close ups to highlight the overt emotional turmoil of Hari, lets us into his mind. The tempo and the mood is set up in the beginning of the film. We see in Hari’s house in a wide angle long shot the interiors of the darkish sparse room that he inhabits as he gets ready to leave his house with his miniscule belongings. He switches off the lights, comes to the foreground and picks his small bag, goes back to close the window, moves to the door before closing it too. The frame goes totally dark. All these in real time. Outside he sees that the time displayed on his mobile watch is 3.33 PM. 

Saumesh’s visuals are consistently bluish in nature and on the de-saturated side. His sounds blend the existing sound effects with a continuous low level theme music, slightly cautioning us for an impending doom. But his mise en scene is most expressive when the character gets caught in a loop zone. This frame, which the zone captures is fixed in an extreme long shot magnification where the man himself is seen as an insignificant tiny spot moving helter-skelter in the background. The more he exits this frame from one side, the more he gets back to it from the other.

Mysteriously, his phone network also disappears. He can’t hear his girlfriend’s anxious voice anymore. He is totally isolated and it gets on his nerves. He throws away the bag that he holds left of frame, it comes back from the right. The character then comes to the mid ground and makes an exit there, only to come back into the frame from the other side and in mid shot. The same thing repeats in the foreground. At times, multiple images of the man appear – either struck within the frame or are seen exiting and entering it.

Occasionally, we cut to his mid shot – the unreality of it marked by a diffused edges of the visual image caused by the usage of a diffuser – not shying away from fully letting us experience Hari’s expressive overtly stylized desperation, only to come back to the fixed frame that we saw earlier. All these while we hear dog barks in the sound track; the dog itself is never seen in the frame. There is a world outside the zone, but it is not accessed or seen by Hari. After his failed attempt to kill and liberate himself from the loop that he is struck in, he throws away his phone in anger. It comes back from the other direction and hits him in his head. He faints and there is a fade off.

That is when the most decisive moment of the film occurs. When the film fades in, we see Hari and his girlfriend sitting on a beach, discussing their future. We had earlier only heard her voice, through phone calls or otherwise. The context of the film is set up in this scene and also by its mere placement in the position where it is. This is where we realise that the lovers are from different castes and they could be planning to elope to avoid a caste based violence that could be activated if they got married openly. The girl was educated, the boy was not. Had they known about their affair, the girl’s parents would have immediately gotten her married elsewhere and also would have killed the boy.

Suddenly, the entire time loop that Hari had been caught up in that zone that has a scarecrow, the lone tree and the two long palm trees, begins to make sense. It is here that we realise that the time-loop device used is not just a cinematic ‘attraction’ meant to impress the audience nor was used as an excuse only to show the expressive helplessness of the character as an exercise in self-pity. It has a certain societal reverberation, that stops it from merely being a well-made surreal psychological flick. Having lifted the film thus the task is completed; the narrative now gets about its business to wind itself.

Back in the zone, the mobile rings signalling the arrival of an external network into the zone waking Hari from his daze. The dog, whose barks we hitherto heard continuously from outside of the zone, makes its appearance in the frame. It quietly walks from the left of the frame and exits to the right. If outside elements can make it into the ‘zone’, the insider too could move out of it. Hari makes good his escape from the zone and his time starts ticking again. As he comes to the rendezvous spot – a bridge shot in a tele lens – it is evening and he is exhausted. The anxious girlfriend looks at him, probably relieved to see him. As they look at each other the film cuts back to the ‘Zone’, where we see a bird fly in the sky. It enters from the right of the frame and exits to the left. Immediately it enters back in a similar trajectory and a similar manner from the right and repeats the exit.

Did the couple finally run away and get settled in Mumbai as they had planned to? This question is probably irrelevant to the film as it has made its point – that Hari is now out of the time loop and the restrictive zone. As desired he is with his lover who probably is from the upper crust of our stratified society.  ‘Love helps break the shackles’ – the one-liner if you wish, for the cinematic bookworms.

I make a strong case for ‘Phas Gaya Sisyphus’ and the auteur from Mangalore.

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