S Durga movie cast: Rajshri Deshpande, Kannan Nayar, Vedh, Sujeesh KS, Bilas Nair
S Durga movie director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
S Durga movie rating: 4 stars
A young man and woman, clearly on the run, are trying to find their way to a railway station. The hour is late, and we see their increasing desperation as they try hailing a vehicle, any vehicle. They get into a minivan which stops to let them clamber in, and then…
Director Sanal Kumar Sashidharan is not interested in keeping us hanging. He answers the ‘what next’ without missing a beat, confronting his couple by ugliness and danger, not of the unknown, but emanating from the two men in the front, and from the other men they meet on the road. From the instant Durga (Deshpande) and Kabeer (Nayar) get in, they are left in no doubt they are prey, in the sights of predators.
S Durga unspools through a single night on the outskirts of a Kerala village. This gives the film an immediate specificity, just like Sasidharan’s previous Ozhivhu Divasathe Kali (An Off Day Game), a stark, savage comment on racial discrimination, toxic masculinity and patriarchy. S Durga expands further on those themes, bungs in the corrosive hold ritualistic religion has on us, and an active suspicion and hostility towards non-natives. It’s bad enough that Durga is a mere female; she makes it worse by being a Hindi-speaking North Indian. The situation could arise anywhere in India, especially in today’s India where a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy are ripe for raping and lynching. And if they are out at night, well, it is party-time, because which decent girl is out ‘raat ke andhere mein’?
This film almost didn’t make it to theatres. That’s also a reality in today’s India where people who have no idea of art and the use of irony and urgency have the power to decide what we can see, or not. It was originally called Sexy Durga; the ‘sexy’ was, of course, a deeply ironical statement, and an indictment of our deeply hypocritical society: we worship Durga and Kali till they are safely on a pedestal. If they come off, all bets are off.
In a striking parallel, the film shows us long stretches of men being pierced by hooks and held aloft, celebrating ‘Garudan Thookkam’ in honour of the goddess. It is an all-male affair, mostly; the women, such as there are, are hidden in the crowd.
There’s a Durga doll which hangs by the head, in the strobelit minivan, which moves like a shark through the night. There’s also a Durga miniature statuette on the dashboard, a good luck charm. And then there’s the real, live Durga squirming and petrified in the back seat, praying for safe passage. Will she? Won’t she?
This is not an easy film to watch, filled as it is with fear and dread: I literally held my breath for the 1.5 hours of its duration. It turns us the viewers into helpless voyeurs, horrified participants, and furious citizens, all at once. But watch we must, because like all the best ‘road movies’, it leaves learnings in its wake. Are we awake?