Mumbai, 31 Oct 2018 22:00 IST
Rahul Riji Nair's fine feature film takes you through a myriad of emotions - from shock to fear - and tells the story of a new bride's experience with aplomb.
Ottamuri Velicham or Light In The Room opens with a jeep, containing a wedding party, broken down on the side of the road. The handy groom Chandran (Deepak Parambol) who is good with electrical things has to fix the engine to get it going. Another guest whispers about the breakdown being a bad omen. It definitely foreshadows the difficult married life that lays ahead for the unsuspecting bride.
A simple young orphan Sudha (Vinitha Koshy) marries Chandran in an arranged marriage. The two have no idea about one another and have likely committed to the marriage due to familial pressures. Chandran lives in a small one-room house with his mother and younger brother Ramesh and brings Sudha to the cramped abode.
On their wedding night, Sudha is hesitant about consummating their marriage and gets the first glimpse of her new husband's bad temper. She is also unable to sleep at night due the glowing, coloured light affixed in their tiny makeshift room.
As the week progresses, she realizes her husband is grumpy and short-tempered. He is dismissive of her opinion and needs, preferring to stay away at his electrical workshop all day, returning only at night.
Sudha begins to dread those nights where he asserts his dominance over and even takes out his work frustrations on her. Sadly but naturally, he rapes her too. Both her mother-in-law and brother-in-law, sleeping in the next room, listen but do nothing to stop it.
She soon understands the daily nightmare she's in. Her husband's business partner and her mother-in-law excuse his behaviour, saying he's still young but means well. Chandran's mother reveals she was abused by her husband as well, and he grew up watching it. While they try to speak up in favour of Sudha, no action is taken to help her.
The nightly assaults continue and writer-director Rahul Riji Nair shows her torture through cinematic means, not graphically. The coloured light in the room is a menace, adding to the evil Chandran is inflicting on Sudha and the background music by Sidhartha Pradeep raises the tension (and our blood pressure) as we wonder what will happen next to poor Sudha.
Nair's feature tells the story of this young woman, but it brings the spotlight to many women like her, living in rural and/or urban spaces in India who have to endure this on a daily basis. He builds up the narrative well, and has a firm but decisive hand on his story.
The director sets the story in a beautiful landscape, Sudha escapes to the lush green forest and babbling stream to recover from her abuse - ugliness can lie amidst great beauty.
Cinematographer Luke Jose uses the contrast of the outdoors and the relief Sudha feels outside compared to the claustrophobia and fear of being in the room with Chandran. Even editor Appu N Bhattathiri uses this method to highlight growing desperation and the steps she might eventually take to get herself out of it.
Both lead artistes Vinitha and Deepak are effective in their roles - you despise Chandran and root for Sudha. For the rest of the characters, Nair shows the malaise of society, how we contribute to the culture of silence by sweeping pertinent, pressing issues under the rug. They see all, but do nothing.
Ottamuri Velicham is his first feature film and it has already won critical acclaim in India and abroad and it's easy to see why. His directorial style is poised and confident, and he allows the rest of his technical crew to shine in his production.
I especially liked the touch of including photos of the cast and crew in the credits, sharing behind the scenes look of the making of the film. It gives the film a feeling of teamwork, showcasing the hard work from everyone, from the assistant director to the sound designer.
Ottamuri Velicham may be difficult viewing for some, I certainly had to close my eyes once or twice, but it is necessary and important. As for Nair, he is a voice to look out for.
Ottamuri Velicham was screened at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival on 29 October 2018.
Related topicsMAMI Oxfam Gender Equality Award
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