The Poignancy of Justice

 

  –  Deconstructing humanism of Hossien Shahabi’s The Bright Day

 

One might brand this movie as a reflection of Iran’s fringe filmmaking culture. A quintessential offbeat screenplay intertwined with adequate cultural offerings. Perhaps, a movie that is oriented towards an audience which considers itself to be a learned lot on morality debates of the non-western societies. When, however, this 96 minutes long motion picture met my eye, I preferred to think the other way.

A directorial debut of a cinematic prodigy, The Bright Day is like a universe packed in a small cab. Like the theories of everything human about this world presented through the unravelling of two beings. Yes, this is how brief the world can get. At least in the same head that is perplexed by the vastness and vagueness it forms for itself.

Despite its strong fringe characteristics, I would call the narrative an inward shift of mirror to face the Iranian society itself. It’s a social commentary on the tragic manipulations of the nation’s criminal justice system by the far reaching hands of the rich and powerful. What could have been an old wine in a new bottle came across as a flavour that has not been favoured before. Yes, the sub narratives involved in the script opened up dilemmas surrounding individual morality and the feeblish character it practically possess.

The story revolves around a kindergarten teacher, Farhoudi (Pantea Bahram) who is taken a taxi to scale the city in order to find possible witnesses who can testify for Pousan, a man who is charged for the murder of his colleague who is also supposed to be the son of his boss. So, what withers the abstractness? To some extent, it is the fact that Pousan fathers a young boy who is a student at Farhoudi’s school. The other half of abstractness, the one which deals with Farhoudi’s overzealous attempt to save Pousan’s life, is a plot that dominates the major part of the film.

On her journey to find witnesses, Farhoudi is joined by a cab driver Kiani (Mehran Ahmedi) who too becomes extremely passionate about Pousan’s case and endeavours to do every possible thing to help Farhoudi fetching the right witnesses. Farhoudi has been informed by Pousan’s lawyer that the witnesses (more than 1) must be brought before the court within six hours otherwise the accused would meet a deadly fate. It is this period of six hours that serves the central screenplay of the movie.

Focusing on the abstractness of Farhoudi’s extremely selfless endeavour, the awkwardness of the same is realised by each and every possible witness she goes ahead to approach. Most of these people are Pousan’s co-workers who were present at the time of the questioned event when a brief scuffle between Pousan and his boss’s son led to the latter’s accidental fall from the staircase. Everybody knows this act to be an accident but nobody wants to testify the same due to the financial baits and physical threats advanced by the prosecuting party. When Farhoudi questions these people about the falsity of their decision making, she’s met with counter questions that doubt her intentions behind getting involved in the case. While Kiani’s support is purely on humanitarian and moralistic grounds, the story maintains a convenient silence about the true intentions of Farhoudi. Such is the genuineness of her efforts, that one shall be forced to put her intention under the humanitarian context only.

The movie is mostly shot in real time which contributes to its realism credentials. Every minute of those six hours is impregnated with sheds of anxiety and corresponding hope. The intelligent absence of background score from the climactic moments of the film provides a better insight into the psyche of the characters. We are rather exposed to surrounding sounds of chirping birds, passing cars and government healthcare announcements. Such closeness with the entire context of a particular plot presents the emotional gravity of the characters involved and the urgency of the situation in the most accurate way possible. It also hints towards the fact that no matter how big your problem is, the surrounding world is unaffected of its maladies.

One of the briefest sub themes of the narrative deals with the issue of gender roles and resulting sexism in the society. The widely occurring instance of this assertion can be the aspersions associated with Farhoudi’s interest in saving Pousan while no such image is built around Kiani. Such is the pressure of this doubt, that along with continuing tiredness, it leads to an unexpected outburst from Farhoudi where she screams that ‘I can be his anything. His sister, mother or daughter. It’s not about me though. It’s about a man who may face resistance for an act he has not committed.’  The other instance of such gender inequality can be seen from the fact that one of the most promising witnesses, who happened to be a woman, was unable to help Pousan because women are not allowed to testify in criminal cases involving intentional homicide.

The movie is devoid of any cinematic pretence. The frames are kept as raw and insightful as they would have been in a realist outplay of such an incident. And that is what imbibes a viewer to the depth of the existing problem. Probably, we don’t need that artificially induced rush of emotions to understand the gravity of a situation. Sometimes, the act of making us see the reality as it is can stir up deepest compassion for these are the realities we often seek to ignore in our daily processes. Processes that seek convenience of everything good, expected and under our control.

It is not just the bleakness that the director wants to portray through his narrative. It is the regrettable apathy that people have developed towards this bleakness that amuses his cause. Farhoudi’s failure to move the possible witnesses by invoking the possible plight of Pousan’s son and ailing mother shows the receding morality of people in a materialistic context. Even the most religious of beings conveniently choose to forsake religion’s offerings on piety and truthfulness by building a bubble around their conscience that somehow moulds their action to suit the ‘broader’ sanctions of their religion. This can be seen in the counter argument raised by one of the witnesses who said that ‘I would not support a murderer’ even after knowing the fact that the person he’s referring to is actually innocent.

So, I would say that The Bright Day was so inhumane that it felt too human. It exposed me to the realities I’m somewhat aware of but I would still be shocked by the visual representation of the same. The only humane aspect of the narrative, Farhoudi’s selfless humanitarian effort, also tends to retreat in the later part of the movie. As the story takes a desperate turn, we get exposed to the humanness of Farhoudi. And if the movie’s definition of humanness is anything to go by, this exposure did hurt a lot. All this while, I wanted Farhoudi to be that one shred of idealism that as a visionary I can cling to; that one fault of the narrative that could divorce me from the realism of the situation. ‘Oh, it’s just the fiction’! I wish I could exclaim. But it didn’t. Farhoudi is also a human and that too in a society that she’s done fighting against. As a human, her demeanour is also colourable by shades of emotions and feelings; a sense of attachment to the subject matter if not selfishness. And we see just that. Sigh! But so artistic, indeed.

The Bright Day is nothing short of desperation; or anxiety. It’s like a visual display of emotions where humans just get to be there. While watching this film you’ll be forced to forge certain dilemmas within. The debates you were always running away from. But it all comes down to convenience. It all comes down to that perverseness the elimination of which you started this entire fight for at the first place but ended up succumbing to the same to avoid a larger or broader harm. That’s why we see Kiani, after being rattled by the last minute hostility of a promising witness, asks Pousan’s lawyer to present him as one of the witnesses.

So, is change a utopia that the society would be done thriving for? Perhaps, it is. However, what’s more important is that how you twitch the status quo to make a little sense of circumstances around you. We may be doing it a wrong way, but we aren’t heading towards the wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winds Against My Face

This night,
It’s not about you or them
Or us,
It’s about the nothingness
I never thought existed
This night, it’s brighter
Than the sunlit skies, it’s clearer
At least to my inhibitions
This night
Has a silence that wants to listen to me
But I don’t want to talk
I just want to be there, somewhere
Where there’s no one around
And I’m fine with it.
At least for that moment.
This night,
Is between the past and the future
And unaware of the present
This night
Is not about the fights
But about everything I didn’t want to understand
And it doesn’t explain a thing to me
This night
This cab
This post college party drive
These streetlights
These empty roads
These shuttered down shops
This is perfection
Or illusion
But I know this is mine
So I roll the windows down
Rest my head against the car seat
This night, it has winds
That blows heavily against my face
And I
Put up a face that is emotionless
And the winds just rush through it
Not trying to judge me
Because, these winds
Belong to a night
That doesn’t want to know me
But it just wants to embrace me
And I let it happen
I’m unafraid
I feel like myself
I know I exist.

The Sin of Expectations

I know you said it

You somewhere touched upon my insecurity

And made it clear,

That I expect too much.

And it’s wrong.

I figured that your rationality upon every little thing that I felt and wanted to share

Is far more important

Your “deep understanding “ of my naivety is a right way of judging and repeatedly underplaying

The things I wanted to say

Or feel.

I was there

Going places to understand the mystery  that you appeared  to be and seeking no understanding from your end

Because I’m young.

Probably. You said it.

I wasn’t that young when you wanted me to go down on you

To keep on murmuring things I thought you would remember.

But then, it happened

I expected

Not the moon but just one more glare of love in your eyes

Of just one reply to those bunch of blue ticked texts

Of that one song that you played  the first time we met and under whose influence you dared to kiss me

And I let it happen

Not because I was easy but because I wanted to.

It all felt right. The expectations were turned into dreams

And then you became a dream that I kept on chasing.

I had no problem in coming at your place but my little desire for a coffee at a humble cafe became an expectation

And when I said it

You said I stooped to levels of self boasting?

I was shattered, but I couldn’t erase your reflection from my lobes,

Your smell from my clothes,

Your smile from my eyes.

I kept on pushing my self respect to a fire that you fuelled. And honestly,

I didn’t care.

Because with my head on your lap,

You said

‘Good you realized. I’m glad the drama is over’

And I thought it was a beginning,

But no.

It was a continuance. An upgradation

It was like a victory you always saw coming and a defeat that I found solace into.

A defeat that felt warm and safe. Because you were still there.

I felt happy that I can again mention you in my conversations and wait for your texts.

I’m still a part of you.

Or I believe.

I started accepting the fact that love is way above petty standards that this society has dawned upon us.

It’s above cheesy one liners

Above nicknames

Above conversations

Above texts

Above remembrance

And above knowing if the other person still exists.

I was too scared to go back to that old self. That person

Who was an expectation freak!

For what I thought that if happiness is all about being with you, not actually being with you but to just believe that I am,

Is also happiness.

 

 

The Fiction of Reality

We have often disguised our desires into brief pieces of literature. The scattered shreds of bravery have been collated time and again to put across a shy representation of justice; made to be interpreted by the intelligent without stirring up sentiments blatantly. When I began to find convergence of concepts such as ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ to envisage a kind of a universal index of morality, I found an intriguing narrative enclosed in a book called ‘neither night nor day’.

‘The Tongue’ by Nikhat Hasan is a metaphorical ride of ideas advocating emancipation that have been imbued in a story that involves the conventional trinity of a king, kingdom and the subjects. Boasting of quite an unusual plot, the cringe-worthy moments in the book are  perfect cliff-hangers for a thinking riot that waits at the finish line. A story that talks about the ‘tongue-severing’ ritual of a village is a clever choice to seize the attention and infuse a string of wild guesses in the reader’s conscience about the plausible conclusion.

My reading of the aforesaid text involves an interpretation that runs deeper, if not parallel, to the literal interpretation. The author, a lady from Pakistan, may disagree with this take or might solitarily applaud it as the ‘message well received’. However, I must say that the eventful unravelling of the truth and the focused selection of the metaphors unavoidably takes my attention to a social commentary that is disguised as a kinship fantasy. In the sinister plotting of the narrative and the purposely oriented characters that goes on to prove my assertions and my inferences.

In a feudal set up, the author has created a binary of personas – The Ruler and the Citizens. What also runs parallel is the social depravity of the people that is centred upon loss of communication due to severing of tongues. The social depravity is contextualised as a grim yet unrealisable punishment that is aggravated by highlighting the economic prosperity of the kingdom. It may sound weird, but while reading the text one may easily be able to identify the stark contrast that has been created between hedonistic prosperity and actual happiness of a being. Also evident in the narrative (prominently at the later stage) is a minority of rebels or non conformists.

If understood in its entirety, the text undoubtedly yearns to tell the malaise of contemporary systems through a fictional fancy. Coming from a country that has seen multiple dethroning of democratically elected governments, and from a region that has discriminatory standards for gendered duality, this piece surely looks like a social commentary. A befooled successor of the king may very well represent the unintelligent electorate that adorn South Asian democracies. The irrational continuance of an age old practice may very well reflect the blinded outlook of the state towards societal dynamism and a stated belief in conventional fundamentalism. An act of dwelling in the status quo to avoid baiting of personal political stakes.

The most significant message lies in the primary object of the text – severed tongues. A tongue may very well qualify as a symbol for one’s voice in the system and the freedom of speech that one shall be ensured of. The severing of tongue points towards the curtailing of basic tenants of democracy such as freedom of speech and freedom to dissent. In fact, the very idea of holding it as an age old ritual endeavours to highlight the psychological permanency that is established regarding draconian regulations by associating the divine or customary validation. So much so, that a sense of lethargy starts to prevail in the society and people tend to become silent despite carrying ability to speak. As we go further, the story uncovers the unrealised importance of a tongue. The King’s insecurity and authoritarian attitude is reflected in his perspective about tongues. He believes that it is an instrument of human folly and exaggerates his contempt to an extent of blaming it for all the tragedies that had taken place in the kingdom. This is very similar to how our current leaders tend to sway the public opinion by maligning the righteous and exaggerating his weaknesses to a point of character assassination. All this, and much more, very intelligently paints a realistic picture of statecraft in the South Asian region with a palette of unreal colours.

The story concludes with a momentary realisation of the fact that one’s tongue cannot be severed forever. It will start to grow again at some point in future. And this time, people will cleverly hide it in order to wait for a time when it is mighty enough for a massive outcry.

The concepts of ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ are inalienable and inherent to a human being. The belief in democracy shoots from the soils of utmost oppression. The characters, the metaphors and the tragedy of the plot may or may not believe in my interpretation. However, one must appreciate the nuanced display of worded bravery shown by Nikhat Hasan. Wrapping in the layers of mysteries from faraway land, the lady from Pakistan has planted the traces of undistinguishable realties that requires a considerate heart and an open mind for it to be deciphered. ‘The Tongue’ would make you travel within your own belief system and would make you question things that you have taken for granted.

A silent bearer of truth, I hail The Tongue as a blurring line between fiction and reality; a victory that seeks no vindication.