Tales from two countries
`Perumazhakalam' and `Dame Sobh,' two films that were screened in the IFFK, deal with the same issue but from different perspectives.
JUXTAPOSING REALITIES: Scenes from `Dame Sobh,'
A young migrant labourer, enraged by breach of trust, commits a murder. He is sentenced to death; his only hope of deliverance lies with the victim's family.
Sounds like director Kamal's acclaimed `Perumazhakalam?' Yes, but this is also the plot of `Dame Sobh' (`Day Break'), an Iranian film directed by Hamid Rahmanian. In a delightful coincidence, both films were featured in the Competition Section of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) that concluded last week.
Down the ages, the bedrock of abhinaya in the Indian performing arts tradition has been the Navarasas. This exemplifies an eternal truth: no matter what the time period, nationality or religion, the ambit of human emotions remains constant. The parallel plots of `Perumazhakalam' and `Dame Sobh' - one directed by an accomplished Indian director and the other by a young Iranian debutant - highlight this once again.
The differing cinematic ambience of the two films hinge primarily on their perspective. The viewer sees `Perumazhakalam' through the eyes of the murderer's family and also the victim's. The pathos is pronounced and played out against the backdrop of incessant rain. `Dame Sobh,' conversely, is disconcertingly quiet: the murderer is the protagonist, and his trauma is communicated through the cold silence of the prison where he awaits his fate.
Both films tackle contemporary issues of migration and the betrayal of innocence by metropolitan guile. In search of a better future, the romantic Mansour persuades his family to leave their ancestral home in the mountainous North. Shots of the vibrant countryside are juxtaposed with an ominous establishing shot of the monotonous layout of Teheran.
Akbar in `Perumazhakalam' leaves Kerala for Saudi Arabia, following the migratory pattern of Malayali millions. Both their dreams are crushed: an unscrupulous employer tricks Mansour; a scheming friend swindles Akbar of his money. Robbed of their future, the two young men are driven into an irrational, out-of-character act of murder.
Their lives hang on the slender thread of forgiveness by the victim's family, and this clause in Islamic law is at the heart of both films. Akbar's traumatised wife appeals for mercy to the victim's wife Ganga, who obliges at the risk of ex-communication. `Perumazhakalam' is also a powerful statement on female bonding: Ganga rises above her own excruciating grief to save another's life.
In `Dame Sobh,' the victim's family does not turn up on the execution date, thereby repeatedly delaying the pronouncement of Mansour's fate. To ease his trauma, he forbids his family to meet him but his resolve is shattered at the sight of his first-born, a baby girl. He is in limbo, suspended between life and death, in which anguished state he attempts suicide.
We are not told about Mansour's ultimate destiny: the film closes as he is being prepared, yet again, for execution. Interestingly, the films take divergent approaches with respect to the media.
In `Perumazhakalam' the visual media is shown as flippant and intrusive, seeking to make a spectacle of grief.
The media is an empathetic presence in the Iranian film: we see the makers of `Day Break' trying to film within the prison and present a balanced view of the twilight zone between life and death.
"Even though in the world, people have different eye colours, skin colours, or something, but ultimately they are humans which means they share the same things," observed the prodigiously gifted South Korean director Kim ki-Duk, whose retrospective was featured in the festival.
In the final analysis, both `Dame Sobh' and `Perumazhakalam' deal not with the Shariat or the death penalty but with human suffering, hope and redemption.
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