Dwijiri B Basumatary
New Delhi, 04 Sep 2021 6:30 IST
The short film follows a Northeast worker trying to earn a livelihood in South India, only to deliver one disastrous service after another.
The short film Life In Stars follows the plight of a Northeast migrant working in South India. Far from home, Jerryna Chon (Pemreiya) works as a masseuse, dragging her massage bag from house to house to offer her services. While on her way to a client, she is informed that she has lately been getting poor reviews from clients. Jerryna is curtly advised that she must get at least four stars from her next client, failing which her licence could be cancelled. The voice on the phone is neither malicious nor empathetic. It is cold, distant and emotionally disconnected, almost like a pre-recorded call.
Pemreiya does an outstanding job as masseuse and single mother Jerryna. So much of the stress, ennui and helplessness springing from her inability to converse fluently in English with her Tamil customers are indicated almost effortlessly through her expressive eyes, even as the rest of her face remains guarded and stoic.
The short film, directed, written and edited by Rafiq Ismail, succeeds by not hammering the message on to the viewer that workers get exploited in new and unfamiliar surroundings. This was a visible problem in another 'Northeastern-fish-out-of-water' film, Axone (2020). Ismail avoids this trap by being more subtle with the screenplay. It is not that people are out to bring Jerryna down in her career or personal life. Instead, the antagonist haunting her like a spectre is the star-rating system and how it inadvertently sets up vulnerable workers, such as non-English speakers, for a loss, as apps do not provide a space for discussion between worker and client. Circumstances beyond Jerryna’s control cause one client to give her a single-star rating and there is nothing she can do to change that.
The director of photography, Salu K Thomas, caringly films the narrow lanes, staircases and skylines of the location in a way that brings the character of the city to life. At one point, Jerryna is hanging out on her terrace at night and we can see the busy roads and city lights glaring from behind her, always shifting and on the move, stopping for no one. In this moment, we can feel the loneliness and alienation of an outsider trying to get by in an unfriendly, dismal city.
The ever-present threat of losing your job, especially if it is a menial and replicable task, is a more relevant topic than ever before. And this short will hit home for many young Indians. There are times when one wishes the film (which is under 13 minutes) was faster, but apart from that, the short is a winning film with shining effort from all the cast and crew involved.
Life In Stars is being screened at the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival, which is being held online this year from 28 August to 5 September.
Related topicsBengaluru International Short Film Festival
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