Review English

Veena And Ukulele review: A contemplative reflection on tradition and modernity through gender

Release Date: 24 Sep 2021 / 19min

Cinestaan Rating

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

Unni Vijayan’s short makes us think about the dichotomy between tradition and freedom for young women in an urban, upper-class society.

A regular day in an upmarket apartment complex. Electricians are fiddling around, doing some maintenance work. A young girl, Diya, wearing traditional clothes comes to her teacher’s home to learn the veena. She is obedient, follows instructions and quietly plays the instrument. Meanwhile, another young girl, Varsha, in the opposite house gets into an argument with her mother as she is stepping out to go out with her friends. She is wearing a pair of shorts. The mother complains about everything — from her buying high heels frequently, her studies and upcoming exams, spending money excessively; everything, except her clothes. But Varsha knows what the real issue is.

Unni Vijayan’s English-language short film presents two seemingly opposite worlds as a study in contrasts, throwing them in sharp relief towards the end. Seemingly away from the oppressive rules of society and patriarchy, we see both Varsha and Diya being themselves, wearing what they feel like, being carefree, playing different instruments, enjoying the company of their friends.

What stands out in the film is the inventive camera work. The camera is an observer, standing outside the two houses, peeking into half-open homes, panning from one dwelling place to another, with sounds often being the bridge as well as the soundtrack to the action. The two homes are seemingly very different from each other. In one, we see the prevalence of the obviously traditional, with Diya trying to perfect the gamakam; while in the other, the discussion is between a teenage daughter who attends concerts, wears western clothes, and knows how to navigate the terrain mapped by her parents. Despite the differences, both girls are expected to fulfil certain roles in their homes.

Unni skillfully invokes the two instruments, the veena and the ukulele, to enhance the difference between tradition and modernity that runs through the film. While the veena is steeped in a rigid tradition, the ukelele is a western instrument, fun, light and evokes merriment. Just as the imposing veena makes its presence known, so do the figures of authority in the lives of the two girls. 

Veena And Ukulele captures the stuffy atmosphere in both homes, offering a much-needed reprieve at the end. Unni's skilful direction ably communicates the divide between traditional roles and freedom for young women in an urban, upper-class society straddling traditional values with western ways of being.

Unni won the Best Director Award in the short film category at the Ottawa Indian Film Festival Awards. The film was screened as part of the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival, which ended yesterday.


Related topics

Bengaluru International Film Festival

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