Spaces define relationships. The way we inhabit and vacate them withhold a story in itself. But most significantly, we measure the degree of intimacy through spatial dimension. When two people — previously together — decide to part, the situation is either referred to as breaking up or separation — in both cases, the emotional rupturing evokes a sense of physical dislocation. Similarly, when together, the extent of companionship is measured in the same currency: if they stay apart, it is termed as ‘long-distance’, and if together, it is labelled as ‘living-in’. Spaces then approximate where we stand in an alliance. They do because their innate flexibility enables people to exist at different points — together, apart and parted — and still hold on to a name of belonging. But the present condition, impairing mobility for survival, has rendered this pliability defunct. Spaces now are fixed, denoting circumstantial necessity rather than willful convenience. In the Assamese short film, Arranged, director Samujjal Kashyap uses this rigidity as a premise and depicts a relationship that benefits from assertive togetherness and proximity to transition into companionship and attachment.
Centered around a middle-aged couple — Jhurima and Jayanta (Lima Das and Ranjeev Lal Barua in exceptional measured turns), the short showcases their everyday lives during the pandemic. Married just before the lockdown (during the CAA protests), they have been stuck at home. But this time together seems neither precious nor tiresome for they are at best, familiar strangers. Even though not spelt out, it is fairly evident that this is an arranged marriage. Conversations regarding household chores constitute their interaction, preceded and succeeded by awkward silences. Crippled by shyness, Jayanta is content looking longingly at his wife, hoping that would convey his fondness. She, on her part, tiptoes around to not make him uncomfortable. They are, as their tenant Choudhury observes, stingy with their words.
The third member of the house, he (Harsh Siddhanta, who has also written the script) serves as the de facto narrator and Jayanta’s wingman. An observer who refuses to be a bystander, Choudhury keeps egging Jayanta to break the ice, initiate conversation and make some space for his wife to walk in. He also serves as the conduit between the audience and his landlord, providing information about the latter through a phone conversation with an acquaintance. During the course, he divulges Jayanta’s supposed lack of friends and relatives, deep affection for his wife and equal bashfulness to express the same.
The 22-minute film is a disarming illustration of a 45-year-old introvert learning the ropes to be familiar with his partner in the absence of privacy, evoking the grammar of a high-school romance. It is a rewarding reminder of the potency of fortuitous without seeking refuge in the comfort of certitude. Playing on YouTube, the short dropped on October 16 and within days, amassed the digital equivalent of a box office success: views. As of today, it has over three lakh views and a comment section reflective of careful observation and joyful dissection of scenes. For many, it is also their second brush with Assamese films after Bhaskar Hazarika’s fascinatingly macabre Aamis (which also starred Lima Das) last year.
Kashyap, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and familiar with tangible acclaim, is overwhelmed and thrilled with such widespread and intangible appreciation. “I didn’t want validation from festivals, I wanted to gift it to the people,” he says, speaking to indianexpress.com. The usage of the word “gift” is precise, for it has been financed by him and Siddhanta to retain complete creative control. Dropping it on YouTube and not on any streaming platform can be also gauged as an off-shoot of the same plan though Kashyap cites saturation of content in OTT platforms as a reason. Written by Siddhanta (a student in St Xavier’s, Bombay) Arranged was shot in a span of two days in September and rehearsed in June, all in lockdown. It was conceived keeping Das and Barua in mind, and both actors, Kashyap shares, were keen and collaborative from the outset (Siddhanta and Kashyap met through Barua).
Even though placed in a reality of which we are all shareholders, the short economically uses past and the individual characters’ personal losses to mould a lived-in tale of companionship. It all comes together in a precious climatic moment of letter reading which begins with the intention of pursuing familiarity and concludes with sharing of history. In a way, Kashyap’s directorial outing is a convincing instance of second chances, a cogent case to begin again. It underlines the charm of chances at a time uncertainty has become synonymous with fatality.
But the appeal of Arranged can be more accurately located when seen through the lens of the time it is posited in and the hope it withholds in spite of that. Completely unravelling indoors, the short outlines the prospect of spaces which after months of mandatory stay appear unyielding and clinical–offering safety and stagnancy in the same barter. It highlights their innate malleability even when unbending, allowing people to exist at different points in a relationship and sustaining expectation of them coming closer. In a year marked with cruel eventualities, it mostly spotlights some endings are beginnings in disguise. All they need is to be re-arranged.