Readers Write In #148: Missed Movies and their honest short film

Posted on March 14, 2020

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(by Adhithya KR)

The name Missed Movies caught my attention on YouTube one day. It brought up this image in my mind of silent library books that were gathering dust on the shelves. Books that were wedged between the bookshelf and flashy novels while a librarian tried finding them and recommending them to the few people who still turned up. Yes, it was a sad image but it was poetic, and true.

I knew about channels like Film Companion and Moving Images which did a great job of taking Tamil Cinema to the world, with commentary in English and relatable breakdowns. Missed Movies was a channel with a difference though, and I knew of no one else like them in this space. They would take beautiful works of World Cinema and try introducing them to the Tamil audience in the Tamil language. Sometimes there were mashups of Korean films set to a theme by Anirudh. At other times, there were in-depth breakdowns of the ideologies of movies ranging from “In the mood for love” to “Blue is the Warmest Colour.” There were compiled lists of films that could open you up to art cinema. There were rants about the film industry and interviews with critics and strugglers. An amazing 30 day movie challenge that they started saw overwhelming response. Throughout all this, the thread was the same – Art cinema over commercial cinema.

Every video resonated with an honesty – There might have been rough edges and eyebrow-raising moments when they used harsh words to drive home their point, but there was no doubt that they believed completely in what they were doing. It was amazing how far they had come with the lack of financial backing and steady stream of negative comments. Their journey is a story worthy of a movie in itself (but they probably wouldn’t make it because it would classify as commercial cinema).

A movie by this team – consisting of Abdul, Aravind, Asif and others – piqued my interest and I was waiting for the time I could watch it. “I reject the invitation from God” started with a painfully long take of a bearded old man taking his own sweet time to wake up in his bed. He walks out, throws fragments of garbage onto the road and goes about his day. Slowly I began to feel the weight that this character must have been feeling. If a few moments of silence without dialogue were affecting me like this, what would a life like this feel? A silent routine followed meticulously day after day? It felt like existing in a world without smartphones after living with them for your whole life.

Not that technology is absent from the man’s life – He watches TV and talks over the phone, but with earphones that mute out the other side all we hear are his feeble attempts to make conversation. He really wants to talk, but there is just a lasting silence in his life that he is unable to get rid of. My favourite scene was when two filmmakers interview him regarding a documentary but even the people asking him about his life are not listening. He is an artifact, a source of information who is not even shown the final video of him that was shot. They are polite but they don’t really care. And he realises that.

There’s another scene where he is struggling to open a plastic pouch filled with Sambar (Vegetable stew). My mother who was passing by saw this and remarked “Ayyo, plastic bag lerundhu saappudraane” (Poor guy, he’s eating from a plastic bag). That’s the least of his sorrows, but his life is a sum of these small bits of sadness like not being able to set the alarm on his phone or lift the water can, that add up to something much gloomier. Finally, the scene ends with him giving up in his attempt to open the sambar pouch and he substitutes it with plain sugar. Venkatesan as the old man is fantastic, with his understated performance creating a brooding atmosphere. It seems like it’s all leading up to his death.

Does he die? Does he survive? What’s the point of the film? Why are there so many excruciatingly long takes that test every ounce of your patience? Because that’s what the film is trying to convey – What it feels like to be old and lonely – Not through social messaging or a series of vignettes but by attempting to recreate the experience itself.

After watching the film, my mother was reminded of an old man we used to know, a man who lived in the village of Aundipatty. He had money, farms and a family that took care of him but ultimately, you know how he died? He had to walk an extra kilometre or two to get a haircut on a day when all the saloons were closed and he took a nap outside a saloon and he passed away. Just like that. His family had no clue where he was and he was ultimately found in the morgue after they reported him missing. It’s anecdotes and memories like this that we associate with the tragedy of getting old. The real tragedy is that the stories appeal to our interests, the memories remain but the weight of living out those lonely lives is something that cannot be shared or sympathised with.

The film is like the old man it shows. Give it some patient attention, and it will move you.