If “the brain is the screen, as Deleuze would have us believe, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s third venture, S Durga “both expresses and induces thought, as images at once move us and move in us.” The brain/screen assemblage is, for Deleuze, an event of images in motion, which is to say both that we think in moving images and that moving images on the film screen share the mobile process of thought. S Durga offers broad contours of thought/imagination—as to why Kabeer and Durga decided to run away at night, and that too travelling with strangers in a van, to reach their ‘destination.’ Does it so matter if the ‘destination’ is a railway station or Chennai or somewhere else? Does it matter if it is in a day time or night? Not at all. What matters is how Kabeer and Durga travel already-always with ‘events’ and ‘moments’ of life.
S Durga is positioned, undoubtedly, within the ongoing experimental milieu of Malayalam films with ‘events’ and ‘moments’ getting constituted as ‘complex assemblages’ for thought and representation. This is a departure from the mainstream sequential ‘narratives’ through the screen-out. There is hardly a story here. If at all there is a story, it is nothing short of ‘events’—‘events’ in complex assemblages. S Durga, however, sets up a screen-in us to facilitate a social introspection of what transgresses our society (from sexual violence to honour killings, harassment and moral policing). Here the director works to button together, metaphorically, the Goddess Durga with an actual human Durga. The viewer thus gets caught between ‘sacrificial’ and ‘sacrilegious’ moments in time and space. In both cases, violence is ‘normalized’—the one in an open space of cultural assemblage (Garudan Thookkam) with body and blood at the service of the Goddess, and the other, in a high way, in a private assemblage (vehicle), with ‘custodians’ of both ‘law and order’ (high way police) and ‘morals and mess’ (petty traders) deploying their own stylized strategies of verbal engagement. While the Goddess Durga is venerated, the human Durga is vituperated albeit violence is so visible in both places in two different forms (a viewer disappointingly told that he was unhappy in the absence of violence in the van!). This is simply a cultural crisis of ‘being’ and ‘nothingness.’ The ‘nothingness’ of it all overwhelmed the human Durga in the midst of a few male chauvinists who pretended themselves to be the custodians of the so called ‘couple.’
Metaphorically, the males of another (cultural) assemblage have gone to the stage of an ecstasy, appealing for a spiritual salvation (with the Goddess Durga). The hypocrisy of the male-agent is thus expressed in complex assemblages – from the family to the social locations of both ‘spiritual and material’ world, from a high way to subways, from day in and day out…However, both Goddess Durga and human Durga are presented by Sanal Kumar for a social litmus test of ‘patience/violence and meaning/panic.’ If our brain/screen could not capture this stuff of ‘violence’ and ‘panic,’ that is exactly the politics of our cultural crisis. Sanal Kumar appears successful in putting his social camera under our cultural skin and makes us think politically. S Durga is a serious theoretical exploration/intervention to contest our spiritual/material ecstasy. Here, the woman is the object of theorization with her perpetual encounter with violent assemblages across a wider realm of our society. If we cannot see this scenario in S Durga, we are obviously a part of the crisis.
The film unfolds itself with real-time images and dialogues, which, in fact, problematise the ‘reality’ itself. The cinematographer (Prathap Joseph) has done well with his ‘vision’ of representing ‘events’ and ‘moments.’ Kannan Nair (Kabeer) Rajshri Deshpande (Durga), and the other entire cast team (which included Sujeesh KS, Baiju Netto, Arunsol, Vedh, Bilas Nair, Nistar Ahamed, Sujith Koyikkal, Vishnu and others) performed in a natural and spontaneous way.
There are several episodes of ‘highway’ and ‘subway’ events in the journey of Durga and Kabeer to an unknown ‘destination.’ They are escaping in each stage, but only to get caught in another round of assemblage of panic and ‘soft’ violence. This is typical of the life-world experience of the people who would prefer to live in a world of freedom and autonomy. This is told with a political forewarning of ‘violence,’ plausibly packaged in complex social and cultural assemblages.
The author is Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at [email protected]