In Groundhog Day (1993), the film’s middle-aged leading man, played by Bill Murray, is stuck in a perplexing, never-ending groove: what would you do if every day was exactly the same, and you were stuck in one place, and nothing that you did mattered?
A young woman in Geetha J’s 100-minute debut feature, Run Kalyani (2019), could well be asking herself that question. Kalyani’s days seem to be the same: waking up in an attic-like room, coming down the steps, greeting her frail, bed-ridden periamma (aunt), making morning coffee and getting ready for the day. She works as a cook in a couple of homes, at some distance from her own modest dwelling, which is in danger of being taken away from her. Debts are piling up. Rent is long overdue. The aunt’s health is failing. Everything in Kalyani’s young life (she appears to be in her early 20s) seems to be teetering on the brink: where will she go from here?
The evocative, thought-provoking film follows Kalyani, as she lets herself in and out of the homes she works in, clocking the emotional temperature of their residents, temporarily a part of the eddy-and-swirl of their rhythms. Observant viewers will soon begin noticing the variations in the pattern. Nothing is exactly the same. There are subtle shifts every day. And, on the fourth day, a momentous event changes her life for good.
Geetha J, writer, producer, director, who shuttles between the UK and her home town Thiruvananthapuram, began as journalist and critic, and soon moved into the documentary and experimental film space. Her 2005 documentary, Woman With A Video Camera, was the first of its kind, with which she began exploring the lives of ordinary, working-class women. How does the ordinary become extraordinary? It’s all to do with the point-of-view, and in Run Kalyani, we see that gaze rest upon its protagonist, as she moves from one day to another.
In the way she opens her eyes, stretches and becomes aware of her surroundings, you know it’s a new day. Does being alone also mean being lonely? Not when you have a good-looking partner who shares your space and feeds your dreams, reading out lyrical lines from great literary texts. Is he real? Or an imaginary companion?
Those of us who do not understand Malayalam will miss the beauty of some of the poetry and the literature, which layers the film. A gentle, wordless romance between a middle-aged man and an abused woman is conducted through the device of hand-written letters (in this digital-heavy age, just the thought of someone actually picking up a pen is sheer romance); you see the beautiful penmanship, and you read the subtitles, wishing you could understand more. But when it comes to the feelings between the two, nothing in lost in translation. Freedom is the same in every language, as relayed by Kalyani’s mobile face, played beautifully by Garggi Ananthan.
The film opened the 20th edition (virtual) of the New York Indian Film Festival on Friday ( July 24). It can be watched on nyiff.moviesaints.com, NYIFF’s screening partner, till August 2.
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