CHAPTER 5: A NEW WORLD
Cut to Srirangam. Saket, his uncle Bhashyam and Aunt Vasantha are traveling in a car. Saket is fully bearded and sports a long hair. He is sitting in the car without any emotion and facial expression. He sits there as if it is forced upon him without choice. This is in total dissonance with the lively and even a bit agitated Saket we have seen in Bengal. The contrast of the situations in North and South India begins here. Apparently, they are going to the house of the bride whom they have chosen for Saket to marry. It is found in the conversation that Saket’s father has passed away. As uncle Bhashyam is trying to coax Saket to accept the alliance, the latter watches an elephant chained to a pillar. The recurrent image of the elephant suggests the new world Saket is in. From an uncontrolled mad man on the loose, Saket is now more passive and in fact chained down to conform to his family’s principles.
Both his aunt and uncle express their wishes to see Saket married and have children. It is also discovered that aunt Vasantha’s husband is bed ridden for years and it will be no surprise if he dies. Saket retorts and reminds them that it is not even half a year since his wife and father passed away and it was improper to marry now. They arrive at the house.
It is a typical Brahmin settlement. It is peaceful. There are no ripples of the riots in this part of the country. People are more preoccupied with the practice of religion rather than the fight about it. Unlike Bengal, people live in independent houses together with all the family members. The people thrive upon superstitions, traditions and formalities for every minute thing they wish to do. They are too finicky about the cultural details around them. These people seem to be total moderates as opposed to the type of people he has been meeting in Bengal. The mellowed down attitude of the people is reflected in every activity they do. They have paintings of the more peaceful Young Krishna as opposed to the bow-bearing Rama and Durga of Bengal. It is although Saket has entered a completely new world.
He is greeted by the parents of the bride and called in. All the formalities done, the bride Mythili (Vasundhara Das) is called. The bride is asked to prostrate to the elders and also before Saket. As Saket blesses her he notices the toe ring on his finger and gets a bit upset. He is reminded of his inability to protect his wife and hence questions are raised about his ability and qualification to take up another. He even feels a bit guilty of that. He, however, tries to overcome that and put his past life behind.
The bride is asked to sing for the groom. Everyone looks on as if it were a monumental event and as if the slightest folly would result in the end of the world, again denoting their addiction towards formalities and cultural rigidity. She sings the Hindu song “Vaishnava Janato”. The song will occur again in the film and will be more relevant at that point. For now, it is just a holy song. As the song completes, we see the marriage taking place in the utmost traditional way. It is gala of an atmosphere reminiscent of the wedding parties in Francis Coppola’s Godfather movies. Saket is clean shaven again as if starting a new marital life. His looks resemble his previous self, the one before the riots.
But Saket seems to be not much interested in the marriage and is more contemplative about the partition that is taking place in the north of the country. It is as if the South is a completely different country altogether. He discusses this with his relatives over there about the situations.
Saket: Here I am. Getting married. And in Delhi… the worst political divorce ever is happening.
Just then they hear someone cry out. Upon investigation, they find that aunt Vasantha has fainted. Saket’s friend, Etty the doctor diagnoses her as all the others watch on curiously. It is found that aunt Vasantha has not eaten and hence has fainted out of hunger. As Etty informs this, he compares aunt Vasantha’s fast with that of Mahatma Gandhi as a joke. Upon this wisecrack, the people around him get upset. Uncle Bhashyam starts blaming Etty and attributes his irreverence to his bloodline. Saket’s mother-in-law Ambujam (Hema Malini) mentions that if Mahatma fasts, freedom will be obtained whereas if the lesser mortals do that, they will just faint like aunt Vasantha. She implicitly asks Etty to not utter such things again. Etty is embarrassed. The sequence again refers to the moderate nature of the people of the family who believe whole-heartedly in Gandhiji and his principles to the point of blindly following it.
Mythili is sent into Saket’s room that night. She sees Saket reading some book sitting on the chair as she reluctantly enters. She finds that it is Gandhiji’s biography and says that it is her book. As Saket apologizes and tries to put the book away she stops him and asks his opinion about the book. He says that he does not like biographies. This is contrasted to her appreciation for the book that indicates her admiration of Gandhiji once again. The frame composition reflects the large distance between the two characters, both physically and emotionally. She tells Saket that she will change her clothes and come in a moment. She enters the next room and starts changing into a more casual wear when a lizard falls on her shoulders. She is scarred out of wits and starts shrieking at the top of her voice. As it goes on, the sounds of the shrieks turn into Aparna’s cries for help. Saket hears this and rushes towards the door. Saket bangs the door in order to get in. He feels his helplessness and calls out Aparna loudly. As Mythili opens the door after dealing with the lizard, Saket realizes the truth. He gets upset as Mythili asks who Aparna is. He goes inside the other room and shuts the door. As Mythili asks if he is all right, the others come into the room and bang the door to call Saket. Saket goes to the tap at the end of the room and drenches himself in a bucket of water. This is not only an act of desperation to snap back to reality but is also a symbol in Hindu tradition that signifies relinquishment of a kin. Saket is trying to get rid of Aparna or her memories at least.
Another haunting sequence occurs now in the film. As Saket settles at the end of the room, he sees the figures of the people he had killed appearing in the room and greeting him. This is followed by the image of a lizard struggling to walk in a pool of blood on the floor. The lizard is the indicator of Saket himself. The lizard’s habitat is not the floor but the walls. It never comes down unless by an accident. It is unable to walk on the slippery blood on the floor. Likewise, Saket never expected himself to come down to the level of killing people and drenching himself in blood. As a result, he is unable to get a firm foot in life and is struggling to get back to his original position. Saket cringes on observing this image and starts shivering.
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