The young Malayalam director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga won the coveted Hivor Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam on Saturday evening. The festival ended on Sunday.
The prize, introduced in 1995 to promote intimate and meaningful cinema, is given to one of the eight young talents who are nominated from all over the world. Sasidharan is the first ever Indian to clinch this honour, which carries a huge prize money of Euro 40,000 (Rs 29 lakhs).
The Rotterdam jury said: “The movie won for its daring and resourceful approach in creating a mood of constant tension. The particular use of camera and acting give a sense of immediacy and momentum, while providing an insight into multi-layered power dynamics of gender, class and authority.”
Sasidharan, who had earlier debuted with Ozhivudivasathe Kali or An Off-Day Game, said his Rotterdam trophy would encourage the independent cinema movement in Kerala. The film, starring Kannan Nair and Rajshri Deshpande, is yet to hit the theatrical circuit in India.
Shot without a script and in just 20 days, Sexy Durga -- which this writer saw at the National Film Development Corporation of India’s Film Bazaar in Panaji last November -- is a sort of road movie that opens with a woman, Durga (Rajshri Despande), anxiously waiting on a deserted road in the middle of the night -- till Kabeer (Kannan Nair) arrives. We do not know whether they are married, but we are sure that they are eloping from an undisclosed destination to Chennai. They have to reach a train station, and have to thumb a lift to get there. Unfortunately, the small van that stops by has two men, all sozzled up. And the ride for the couple turns nightmarish.
There is a powerful message in the film: how men who are ardent devotees of Durga by the day turn into monsters at night and Sasidharan weaves this text dextrously into his narrative. The helmer has this fantastic ability to convey fear without actually resorting to violence and bloodshed. Throughout the long night on the road that the couple spend in the van, there is no blood and gore. Not even a hint of these, and, but nonetheless, in a very Hitchcockian style, the scenes seem pregnant with panic and anxiety.
As Sasidharan told this writer at Panaji, “the threat of violence and the possibility of violence are far more rattling to the human psyche than actual force and ferocity are”. Indeed, he has this rare ability to do this through magnificent minimalism.
What is more, Sasidharan can surprise you with his haunting unpredictability. In his first work, An Off-Day Game, he tells us how the drinking bout of some friends in a desolate bungalow during an election holiday ends in a frightening finale. Really, nobody could have seen this climax coming.
Bollywood director Anurag Kashyap tweeted that he was glued to the edge of his seat throughout the time Sexy Durga was playing out. At Panaji, The Hollywood Reporter’s cinema critic Deborah Young mentioned how the work immensely fascinated her.
The question now is, will Sexy Durga pass the censors, and be seen in the cinemas?
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