International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017
Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga is not sexy and more of a drag(a) than a durga.
Another World Premiere at IFFR was the Indian film Sexy Durga: not sexy and more of a drag(a) than a durga. Director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s film is described as an investigation into ‘how obsessiveness and worship can quickly degenerate in a patriarchal society into a mentality of oppression and abuse of power’. Well, yes… sort of… but this rambling text is far too open-ended and ill-disciplined to address those issues in any buttangential ways. This is Sasidharan’s fourth feature length film, and unlike his previous one, Ozhivudivasathe Kali (An Off-Day Game, 2015), which was claimed to have been made without a script, Sexy Durga is claimed to have been made without a pre-set narrative. Sorry to say that this is very evident in various drawn-out, repetitive and rambling sequences and storylines. The risk of improvisation and ‘chance’ in a film can be rewarding if all concerned are up to the challenge, but it would seem not to be the case here. Not all of the actors are persuasive enough to pull this off, and a tighter grip of the director’s hands on set and in the editing suite would have paid better dividends.
The lack of a set narrative notwithstanding, the story is about a young woman, Durga, who is on the run with her lover, Kabeer. They meet up at the side of a road and take off into the night, trying desperately to get to a train station in time to board and begin their amorous journey to a place far away from their point of origin. Along the way, they get picked up by a group of seedy fellows who become increasingly intimidating, while also seeming to be strangely protective of the couple. Sub-plots in this liminal road movie involve the couple trying to escape the group or the group expelling them from their vehicle, but somehow they always get back together to continue the journey in its cramped space.
Set against this trip is recurring footage of Hindu festivities in honour of Kali, the ’embodiment of the rage of the mother Goddess, Durga’, a four-armed deity who carries a severed head as well as her deadly weapons. During the festival, men dance ecstatically, walk across hot coals, and insert sharpened metal skewers into their faces or insert meat hooks into their backs and thighs to be hoisted up a la Richard Harris in the infamous scenes in Elliot Silverstein’s A Man Called Horse (1970). The juxtaposition of the males in the car and the males at the festival are meant to somehow conflate into a parable(?), a morality lesson (?), a polemic (?) about masculinity or, as quoted, ‘a degeneration in patriarchal society into a mentality of oppression and abuse of power’. Ok, I get it. But it is not persuasive nor clear, and, to paraphrase, the film itself is more about a degeneration in directorial society into a mentality of obfuscation and indulgence of power. To lose the plot is one thing, but to lack one, is quite another.
James B. Evans