Readers Write In #206: Miracle in Cell No 7, a movie that is the epitome of “cinema”

Posted on June 17, 2020

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(by Meera Ramanathan)

Ova, a little girl, is accompanied by her grandma and her elementary school teacher to visit her father in prison. Her father, Memo, is wrongly accused of murder and his brain, the size of a pea, is only as developed as Ova. Frustrated by the authorities denying them entry to visit her father in prison, unnoticed by the elders, she runs away. Her grandma and her teacher are showing the warden their permission slip and request entry so the little girl can at least see her dad. “What little girl?” Asks the warden and only then do they notice Ova missing. They panic and the scene cuts to Ova screaming “LingoLingo” on one side ofan orangish brick and concrete wall. On other side, the camera zooms to the entrance and amidst the darkness we see a figure rushing out. “ShishelerMemoscreams, and then we see him leap out. In the next few minutes, both communicate through the wall.There is so much to tell and so much to hear, so many moments have been missed and so many memories crescendo and we are thrust in the middle of all this. There is a prison guard stationed on the roof guarding this wall and he is caught unaware as to what his course of action should be. This doesn’t seem to fit into any protocol he has been trained for andfather-daughter duo communicate oblivious to their surrounding. The emotional tug-of-war breaks not only our tear glands but also the barriers we have built around us and the notion of what we musthave to be happy in this life echoes crystal clear in that one scene.

The Turkish adaptation of the South Korean original available on Netflix is a classic. The audio was in Turkish and there are English subtitles and honestly, I preferred it this way. When you see a movie in the language it was made in, there are certain sounds and emotions that are lost when the audio is switched to English. In this movie, for instance, there is a code that the father and daughter often converse in. In Turkish these words convey the mood precisely – from cute to emotional to that cliff-hanger moment – if this was in English the intensity would have been lost in translation.

The Turkish version gives us a spectacular insight to the milieu. We hear about Heidi, we even watch grandma slicing eggplants for supper. There are notes about Turkish life and its political schema that are woven into the script seamlessly. These disparate worlds intersect rather casually at first but later when they collide head on, the effects are devastating on either side.

When I wanted to write about this movie, I did not want it to be a review but rather an introspection and extrapolation that lingers on the mind. Therefore, like the movie, my thoughts are also going to meander along. Because this movie on the first glance, seems as though it deals with the inherent evil that comes with power, the ability to squash a person’s skull with the iron fist of a military reign. But as the movie ends, we realize we are conned. This is largely about the generosity of the human spirit, the inherent goodness residing in every being and of course the will to do the right thing.

If the actor is good, he will deliver his performance without a hitch. But if the actor is brilliant, he will elevate the scene to a higher plateau. Remember, that scene in Vada Chennai in the wedding where Dhanush is wondering if he is going to be thrown in as the sacrificial lamb. If his head will be laid on the guillotine board and if his identity will be disclosed. There can be no doubt in anybody’s mind about the caliber of this actor. He visualizes the stunning realization that the people he trusted with his life cannot be held to these lofty standards and that they will in a second, without hesitation, bare his soul. This is the true measure of an actors’ worth. In this movie, every actor including the little girl, gets at least one scene to showcase their potential. What they do with this chance, is a moment to savor.

Take grandma, when she realizes that Ova has left to see her father in prison, there is shock and then a slow realization that she is also going to leave. The prison warden’s reaction when Memo is asking him about his execution or the military officer in prison informed of the deserter and that Ova was indeed telling the truth. There are several stellar performances – Yusuf Aga, the teacher but there are three that stand out.

Ova, the little girl who embodies innocence and whose life is struck time and again by the bitter axe of fate. Her child filled naivete renders a smile when she questions why Memo’s friends are in prison. Through her eyes we realize that life does not demand much from us to be happy. She needs to be by the side of her father. They need each other and that is enough to make life happy.

Askorozlu, the mafia man inside the prison is the guy who can make things happen. When he sees his children, his sheer of masculinity breaks down. He is a strong man, but he also realizes how damn lucky he is and does not want to waste the beauty of his life in the name of macho mania. Askorozlu gets the pitch right, his performance is rock-solid and strikes all the right notes. Its hard to make a pick but barring Memo, this was one of my favourite performances.

Memo, a father,who the society labels as mentally challenged. In the end the others must raise up to his gold standard for his conscience is clear. Memo names his sheep and talks to them everyday, he makes us question the very definition of differently abled. In the end, even after he has been through hell, he comes unscathed. His guilelessness remains intactand if God did not intend this for us, then we are all seeing this in the wrong way. Memo is a career defining role and Aras BulutIynemliaces this and it is very hard to separate the actor from the role. He has internalized Memo and his portrayal is devoid of any caricatures. If there is one scene that I would recommend to all aspiring actors, then it would be when Ova is smuggled inside his prison cell and she calls out “Lingo Lingo”. He knows this is Ova’s voice but there is disbelief, is Memo’s child here?

Neymar, the football star claimed that he cried like a child while watching this movie which is exactly what I did. But that is not to say that this movie is a tear jerker. It pulls at the strings of basic human emotions and how we can trust people to do the right thing when given a chance. Human decency still exists.

Barack Obama once said” I will never apologize for saying that the future of our humanity and the future of the world is going to be defined by what we have in common as opposed to those things that separate us and ultimately lead us into conflict.” In these tumultuous times when so much about life is uncertain, this movie reiterates our connect with family and why ultimately family is what defines us and what we will hold dear. What we need to be happy is so little, the people we need to love, nurture and nourish are not on social media but inside the walls of this place we call home.