By Rohit Saha
Though short films, through their apparent structural constraints, appear to be a tricky territory to navigate, filmmakers have time and again found it a very liberating format to tell stories about love. As Tagore said about story stories, ‘Sesh hoyeo hoilo na sesh’ (it ends, but doesn’t seem to have ended), scriptwriters have exploited the hopeless romantic in each of us with the hope and inquisitiveness that lingers with the ending of a short film. Kayoze Irani’s Ankahi – part of the Netflix anthology Ajeeb Daastaans (2021) does just that with its anachronistic romance, and manages to warm and break your heart in a span of a few minutes.
The first scene of Ankahi establishes the two characters and the conflict at hand as we see the camera panning to the protagonists in bed against the morning sun. We soon see the woman, Natasha (Shefali Shah), getting ready to go out, and the man, Kabir (Manav Kaul), whose eyes follow her like a love-sick cat. They talk and flirt in sign language, and it doesn’t take much effort to decipher that there is a playfulness in the romance, and perhaps some tension alongwith. With Kabir’s last-minute hesitation in wording something out and Natasha looking back to catch glimpse of him while she walks out of the gate, we understand that the two seem perfectly capable of communicating without words, but there is something larger at stake here – something that has been left unsaid and hasn’t been talked through.
The next few minutes show us Natasha’s mundane life – providing care for her daughter who is going through a loss of hearing, ending up in loud fights with her busy and apparently emotionally unavailable husband who, despite knowing her daughter’s condition, refuses to learn and communicate with her in sign language. Her interactions with her daughter leave her to ponder what it takes for a person to be loved. Strangely, when Natasha seems to be on the verge of giving up on love, she meets Kabir- a deaf and mute photographer who captures pictures that hide sadnesses in them. They immediately connect over the language of gestures, humour, and a tinge of melancholy that they both find in one another. Natasha finds her calming abode in Kabir amid the chaos of the city and her marriage. Here is a man who cannot ‘listen’ the way we understand the term conventionally, but actually ‘listens’ to her – a sharp contrast to her husband who refuses to listen, and is tired of her voice. Kabir says he prefers to stay deaf as he is tired of people lying to him, echoing the famous Scarface quote. They bond through silent glances and wordless proclamations of adoration which eventually lead to nocturnal lovemaking.
Kayoze understands the complexity of love and how the burden of our ‘state’ can make us feel and perceive love in different ways. Thus, Kayoze revisits the opening scene, but this time he follows Kabir – juxtaposed against the tension that was created when the camera followed Natasha in the opening scene. One feels the innocence of falling in love as Kabir follows Natasha to her home, perhaps in the pursuit of confessing his love, as we, the audience, sit with the feeling in our gut that something is about to go wrong.
As Natasha opens the door, she finds her husband and daughter gleefully engaging in banter as they communicate in sign language. When she turns and finds a flummoxed Kabir outside her door, she helplessly stares for a second as she knows that she has to make a decision, and thus refuses to acknowledge Kabir before shutting the door and breaking down in tears. It must be noted how the shift of language has been crafted here. For the first time, Natasha doesn’t speak a word while she silently nods her head to communicate with her husband, and speaks aloud to communicate and dismiss Kabir’s existence from her life. As the language and medium of expression swap places, one realizes that things won’t be the same again.
Manav Kaul’s incredible acting aggravates the impact of those ending moments. Kabir goes through a plethora of emotions in a few seconds – from being shocked to feeling betrayed and heartbroken to perhaps feeling happy for the person he loved. ‘You managed to lie with your eyes,’ he says as he realizes that eyes, too, can lie – or perhaps that the truth is not the only truth to live with. As a viewer, some perhaps feel that the betrayal of Kabir was problematic, but love can indeed be messy and heart-wrenching – as mere humans, how can we be ever sure of the right thing to do? Natasha’s decision might appear selfish, but one can’t blame anyone for choosing a life they deserve and taking another shot at reviving it. Unlike the other shorts of the anthology, the climactic twist here wasn’t as shocking, there were signs all along, and Kabir, perhaps like many in love, ignored them. Shefali Shah’s eyes lament the loss of love that can’t be reclaimed once the door is shut. She doesn’t answer her daughter’s query, ‘Did that man love you?’ for she knows he did, and though she might have a shot at a healthy marriage again, she will grieve all her life.
Kabir’s moment of revelation invariably reminds us of another film – Barfi’s heartbreak when Shruti doesn’t acknowledge him. Both men have no words to speak aloud, but their loquacious eyes do most of the talking as they feel a cornucopia of emotions within. They feel helpless and shattered because there had only been a silent proclamation of love, needing no assurance to take a giant leap of faith that is called falling in love. While Barfi’s response had more theatrics, Kabir has only one thing to say, ‘You managed to lie with your eyes’ – enough to make the other understand his feelings. Strangely enough, Barfi goes on to ask Shruti to smile, and Kabir, too, chooses to end with a smile. We do not know whether they shall ever forgive, but we do know they only wish for the other’s happiness. What both men indeed choose to tell is borrowed from Borges:
“That kisses are not contracts and gifts are not promises,
And you start to accept defeat with the head up high
And open eyes”Jorge Luis Borges
Read more by Rohit: The Disciple: Zerrissenheit of a Fading Dreamer
Rohit Saha is Literature Major from North Bengal who is inquisitive about anything & everything- from Faiz to Fitzgerald. He writes on cinema in several journals and identifies as a reluctant writer.
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