Film review

17 07 2008

Chapter 3: A search for the self and the other

By Pooja Das Sarkar

One need not be a chamber – to be
Haunted-
One need not be a House-
The Brain has Corridors – surpassing
Material Place –

– Emily Dickinson

Past and present, reality and dreams, narrator and listener, somewhere merge and in between lies the space of the story and its time. When soldier X1 returns from the war against the clones, he finds himself faced with an unusual problem: his identity has been stolen by his fellow soldier in war. In an Odyssey like situation, soldier X1 returns as Ulysses did from the war but unfortunately there isn’t even a pet dog to affirm his unrecognized identity. Instead, his colleague in war is now face to face with his wife in a tribunal to prove who her husband really is. Will she recognize him or will she choose the other? Who or what is reality any way? Is it a Descartian “I think therefore I am” or is it a Camusian existential crisis or a post-modern lack of coherent whole? Where does the self and subjectivity starts formulating itself and how much is it contingent on the phenomenological world outside? What about the strange corridors of the mind-the corridors where old memories fade and new memories are created and new identities too?

Srikant Agawane, the director of Chapter 3, is a minimalist.

And you can tell that in the movies he makes. And also in the way he selects his words-he refuses to give away much. A student of philosophy at the bachelor’s level, Srikant went on to join SRFTI and passed out in 2007. The philosopher looms large in the director. Made as his final diploma film and screened at MIFF 2008, Chapter 3 is an intriguing and engaging film to say the least.

Formally, the first thing that strikes you is the lack of a definite narrative structure. The first scene is a post-war (almost post third world war holocaust scene of utter destruction and disarray) scene where the tribunal has sat in judgement. The space seems more like the representation of the spaces and recesses within the mind-the confusion, chaos and destruction than a real space. Regarding time, the story is narrated in the past and speaks about a distant future. The whole western system, with its coherent and realistic story telling structure, is thrown out of the window as he cuts up the narrative into no specific beginning, middle and end. Chapter 3 is before chapter one and there is a chapter 2 ½ somewhere in between.

When asked whether Jean Luc Godard is his inspiration for this technique, he retorts vehemently and points to the very Indian system of storytelling where the various plots and sub plots are interwoven and delve into each other seamlessly. This is a folk storytelling method and it is ages old. His other influences include two absolutely contrasting masters of filmmaking: Mani Kaul and Ram Gopal Varma. One is the master of the alternative cinema and the other that of mainstream. Srikant likes the uncompromising attitude of both toward their respective and chosen forms. Agawane openly challenges the narrative structure of mainstream cinema (especially the expected Hollywood classical narrative structure) with this very post-structuralist foregrounding of the medium as a fictional space very self-consciously constructed by the author of the film. By questioning notions of space and time (the narrator is recalling the past of a distant future), Agawane breaks the formal norms of mainstream cinema.

The film raises deep philosophical and basic existential questions about life, living, existence, the play of memories in the creation of identities and also the role of memories in relationships. Is this world a “symbolic fiction” of the mind, a simulacrum? Or is it a phenomenological reality? Does the self exist because of the self or because of the identification of the self by the other? How do we even know we exist? Psychoanalysis (Jacques Lacan) tells us that it is at the Mirror Stage that we recognise the self for the first time and it is also the time when we experience a certain lack, a misrecognition of our own abilities. Our whole life then is an attempt to fill this gap through recognition by the other.

The concerns of the film, both formally and content-wise, bear resemblance to some other films raising similar questions. The films with which it can be compared are The Matrix, The Truman Show, Duvidha, Mithya, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Alien. All these films question the very existence of the self and foreground the possibility of another, different world, be it another time or space (a different planet) or a trick of thought within ourselves. Whatever the answers are, the questions become crucial in this increasingly globalised world where fixed identities are constantly changing and merging one into the other. In such a world then, can we agree that:

This world is not a Conclusion.
A species stands beyond –
Invisible as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
It beckons, and it baffles –
Philosophy – don’t know –
And through a Riddle, at the last –
Sagacity must go –
– Emily Dickinson

Chapter 3

Dir: Srikant Balakrishna Agawane
Fiction, 21 min 35 sec, 35mm, Hindi-Pali-Japanese, 2007

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2 responses

24 07 2008
trikatu

Nice review! Is there a place I can see this film? Where does the Pali and Japanese come in?

24 07 2008
A&J

Pooja- an excellent review that is able to do justice to an interesting film! As you point out, the film has a complex narrative structure, that pushes the viewer to constantly construct and connect. For us, at points it reminds us of the work of Tarkovsky- particularly in its visualisation. We will be watching this space for more such inspired writing from you and others…

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