IFFR 2017 review – SEXY DURGA (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, 2017, India)

SexyDurgaposterEven within the tradition of films that are ideologically sound because of their outright denial of the pleasures that are linked with conventional cinema, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga comes across as particularly brutal – both on a formal and intellectual level. Formally, it denies the advancement of a narrative through endless repetition, empty

Formally, it denies the advancement of a narrative through endless repetition, empty dialogue and disorienting juxtaposition of fiction and documentary footage. Sexy Durga remains stuck in an endless cycle, to which there may or may not be any form of conclusion and may carry on after the closing credits.

On an intellectual level, the provocation itself is quite strong. Documentary footage shows scenes of a surreal Hindu festival where men perform sadistic rituals – walking on coals, being hauled in the air by metal hooks on their backs and thighs, etc. – in honour of the female goddess Durga. The footage is juxtaposed with fictional scenes depicting a young runaway couple (the female’s name is also Durga) and depending on the kindness of strangers who offer them a lift to reach their destination. Firstly, we don’t know precisely where these characters come from and where they are going. Secondly, the atmosphere of this journey is unsettling and ambiguous.

Within this structure, even the road movie format is denied of its common romanticism or the Wenders-style type of documentation. Indeed, while Sexy Durga does draw on Indian rituals, traditions, and culture, landscapes of the film are widely nameless, and the documentary footage may as well be, for example, recreations of an imagined post-apocalyptic world. This is why the film is relevant to the world at large.

Sasidharan intended to make a movie that investigated how obsessiveness and worship can quickly degenerate in a patriarchal society into a mentality of oppression and abuse of power. It is the product of the director’s own outrage. As such, he could not bring himself to make a well-composed piece of entertainment. The fact that the film was fully improvised and lacking in a pre-set narrative is a phenomenological and naturalist statement in itself. Phenomenological because, here, the director is detached from the camera, and the scenes take place beyond his control. His presence resembles that of the viewers, who are free to project their own thoughts into the pictures unraveling on the screen – for better or worse. (It was only during the editing process that Sasidharan, as the editor of the film, attempted to make sense of what had taken place during the shoot.) It is naturalist because, even without a pre-set path, the characters of Sexy Durga fall into a pattern that was predetermined by genetic forces beyond their control.

Ultimately, the film has no hope for neither its character nor society at large. Thus, it cannot aim to please, because the world it portrays, is hopelessly unpleasant. – ★★★★

SEXY DURGA || 2017, India || Drama || Directed by – Sanal Kumar Sasidharan / Written by – Sanal Kumar Sasidharan / Produced by – Shaji Mathew / Edited by – Sanal Kumar Sasidharan / Music by – Basil C.J. / Starring – Rajshri Deshpande, Kannan Nayar, Vedh, Sujeesh K.S., Arunsol, Bilas Nair / Running time: 85 mins.


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