Directed by the uniquely talented Mani Kaul, 'Duvidha' is a cine- story about a young couple marooned in the hinterlands of Rajasthan. Rajasthan is famous for its forts and palaces - but we don't see any of that here , in fact we see very less of the outdoors.The action lingers on, in an old white-washed house which cages a young lady (enacted by Raisa Padamsee). Even inside the house, we don't see much of her, swathed as her body is in a sari that is perpetually draped over her head. It's an orthodox household, made worse by the fact that this newly arrived bride is virtually abandoned by her useless young husband. Acceding to an auspicious time-period that mandates him to leave right then to a distant land to trade and make money for five years, he drily consoles his wife that once he returns after five years , they can have all the time and intimacy in the world to themselves.
He's soon gone, but a ghost mimicking him to the fullest, takes his place by fooling the family with a seemingly convincing story. But it tells the young bride the truth. Will she accept this ghost as the perfect physical and mental impersonator of her husband for the next five years ?
One suspects that even if Kaul had directed the same script with a conventional narration, he would have made an interesting picture for the full extent of its crisp 84 minute runtime. But then it might not have made the film uniquely memorable. So he would have thought - what techniques can I use to jazz up this narrative ? How can I do this without boring even the discerning viewer out of her or his skull?
Of all the films I've seen, no other picture comes closer to simulating the effect of reading a comic book (a serious one) and watching a movie at the same time. Kaul subtly detaches video from audio almost always - the characters speak, but the dubbing is purposely left a little desynchronized while the voices are projected a little louder. There are no whispers or any barely audible talk in this movie. The camera, though very careful in aesthetics, is mofussil in its images with high-resolution pictures deliberately unreached for, and that coupled with the speech-bubble- like talk, heightens the illusion of perusing a work of graphic illustrations. Every sentence, with the requisite modulation of course, is like a declarative one. Irony abounds, the magical reality of folklore is tacitly accepted while chaste Sanskrit- centric Hindi is rich in redolence.
Sometimes whilst the dialogues carry on, Kaul shows a static frame, and then switches to another. All this is done so artfully that it does not come across as gimmicky or disconnected - rather the images and the audio each register with crystalline impact. In an early scene of the ladies welcoming the young marital pair, we see a high overhead shot and then realize it is the best and the most vivid angle for covering the colourful different saris of the ladies all closely grouped together.
There's a sequence of the un-named young bride enjoying a ride in a swing outside. But then she doesn't seem to be really enjoying it - the pallu of the sari covers her head like a dark funeral-sheet and her head leans sideways in dolor. The scene, coming nine years after a similar much more famous one, is a clear nod to Satyajit Ray's Charulata but Kaul shows, a short while later, another gesture in his doff of hat, when the angle of camera asks whether this woman on the swing is being hanged to death.
As for the performances , their backbone is good, but finer nuances are obviated by Kaul's Bressonic approach where the actors are only required to be vessels at most, to convey the directorial plan.
Folk vocals and local instruments are employed in inspired fashion to lend bracing underlines and mystic undertows. The tone of the commentaries in the film is equally riveting. Female or male, the dialogue sparkles with native purity and emotional perpicacity. The girl's voice, virginal in its innocence and plain texture, has less screen-time but is given a cutting little soliloquy where she says " In the eyes of parents , a heap of rubbish takes more time to grow than the body their daughter ; I was barely sixteen when they began worrying about giving me away in marriage. I was able to flourish in my mother's womb but not in my father's courtyard".
The young male voice-over is utterly riveting the more one listens to it - please forgive the chauvinism in this as it is put to wonderfully quiet service - not cloying but utterly ironic - in honour of the martyred female's plight. The tone in this voice-over is gloriously inscrutable, as though it had died, and is now re-born and has remained young but omniscient, much wiser, a ghost virtually, but with the poignancy brimming over its seemingly nonchalant tone. Elocuting in splendidly pure Hindi, its achieves its finest moment when it soliloquizes on the bride holding her baby and climbing up the stairs to her husband awaiting in "sweet expectation" in the aftermath of an incident.
By its beautifully subtle depiction of how a society treats its women and by its invigorating take on cinema itself, 'Duvidha' sculpts a compact but unshakeable landmark, not just in the Indian pantheon but also in world cinema. ***** More such @ Upnworld