Shilpa Krishnan Shukla’s There’s Always Tomorrow (Pularum Iniyum Naalekal) in Malayalam and English - which screened at the Dhaka International Film Festival - is a short and sweet story of a man and a woman who meet at an Abu Dhabi cafe and spend an afternoon together. Once, they were lovers.
Shukla’s movie did remind me of Richard Linklater’s Before series - where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play two characters who meet in Vienna and spend a passionate night together in Before Sunrise. Their paths cross again nine years later in Before Sunset, and this time it is Paris. He is a writer and married, and she has a boyfriend. But he misses his flight or that is what is conveyed, and they spend time together again - only to part and meet yet again in Greece. This time, they become a couple.
Shukla’s film has her protagonists, Anthony (Balaraman Kunduvara) and Durga (Gayathri Gopal), married to different people - but the writer-director holds herself back from letting them run away with their feelings. Once they were together, but spilt, and the accidental meeting in Abu Dhabi helps them walk down the memory lane. Their marriages do have little pinpricks, which the two discuss on that lazy afternoon as they make a little tour of the Arab city. There is a beautiful scene of them sitting on the sand dunes as the night falls - a perfect setting for a romance, which does not happen, though.
Shukla thus steers her movie from the predictable. Anthony and Durga do not get back into being lovers - even for a brief afternoon. In the course of a conversation with this writer here after the film was screened the other day, Shukla says that “I really wanted to avoid that kind of a cliche of lovers wanting to get back...”
As Anthony and Durga while away their afternoon in splendid locations at Abu Dhabi, we understand that they were deeply in love and wanted to elope (because their families were opposed to the union). But she does not turn up, and he leaves after a long wait - an incident which reminded this writer of a shot from Casablanca, where Humphrey Bogart’s Rick desperately waits for his love, Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa, at the train station. But she never arrives that day - only to walk into his cafe in Casablanca years later with her husband.
“But I have never seen these films,” Shukla avers. But one supposes that artists have this uncanny ability to think alike.
“However, what is important is that I wanted to show that Anthony and Durga have moved on with their lives. They have found love with other people. There is no remorse or regret or negativity in them... They have fairly good marriages.”
So, this was the mood of the two former lovers when they meet. One presumes that in such a case there could not have been any scope for them to get into bed together. Anyway, Anthony and Durga are not even allowed to get indoors. Shukla’s story and script keep them outdoors - cafes, heritage village, camel farm, desert and so on. And while the title, There’s Always Tomorrow, may sound misleading in a certain sense, Shukla is not quite perturbed by this. Maybe, a sequel may come.
There’s Always Tomorrow, which premiered at Kosovo, has till now travelled to over a dozen festivals. The next stop is Brussels.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Dhaka International Film Festival.)
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