“S*** Durga”… A chilling, fascinating film about the games powerful people play

Posted on April 12, 2018

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Spoilers ahead…

Read the full review on Film Companion, here: http://www.filmcompanion.in/s-durga-movie-review/

It’s the middle of the night. A Hindi-speaking woman, clutching a bag, waits for a man. She looks at her phone, her face anxious. The man arrives on a bike. The driver, a friend, tells him, “Don’t waste time. Please leave.” He drives away, and the man and woman begin to flag down vehicles for a lift. Couldn’t the friend have hung around for a while and helped? Did no one in their circle own a car, or couldn’t they have rented one? And what about these two? Are they lovers, eloping? Are they friends? Is he helping her flee from, say, an abusive relationship? What are the circumstances that prevented them from leaving earlier, in daylight? If they are headed to the railway station, why don’t they seem to know the train timings? Was taking a bus not an option? At what point will we get some background that sets up what S*** Durga is about?

But then, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan doesn’t tell stories with characters and situations so much as set up archetypal, almost primal, scenarios. (Had this been a regular, story-driven narrative, it might have reminded us of the second half of Sameer Thahir’s Kali.) And these scenarios — at least to me — are reminiscent of the aversion-therapy sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. I’m talking about the stretch where the rogue-protagonist’s eyes are pried open by surgical clamps, so he cannot blink, and he is shown a series of violent images so he can be “cured.” As Durga and Kabeer hitch a ride in a van, S*** Durga throws us into the middle of the night and forces us to watch, eyes wide open, the violence around us. The man and woman endure one traumatic experience after another. Other than the helpful friend with the bike, there are no good people around — and then, these people start playing games.

Sasidharan likes games. In his previous film, Ozhivudivasathe Kali, the game-playing was literal. The characters picked a small piece of paper that told them the part they had to play: cop, robber, king or minister.  The “cop” had to guess who the “robber” was, and so on. In S*** Durga, the games are metaphorical, about the way we “toy” with others. But in both films, these games start out as “fun” (though not for everyone), and end up revealing the ugliness inside the players, who are but a microcosm of a patriarchal society. These are, essentially, power games, with the strong preying on the weak. The strength comes from privilege (caste, class, gender, religious majoritarianism). The weakness rises from these very factors, but from the other end of the spectrum.

Continued at the link above.

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