By Chinmaya Shah:
‘From the shallow corners of the tethered human desires, the carnal voice surges to push that moment to zenith. The moment, which seeks nothing but warmth and compassion from the naked soul. The lover’s body illuminates like a lunar halo and struggles, though acceptingly, to get engulfed under the realms of darkness of the other. The mystic darkness knows nothing what love is, but is stringed with moments of lust and irresistible solace. Together they become one, in unison, in an act; unperturbed.’
The neo-noir film B.A.PassÂ is a movie of silent words and acts. Based on ‘The Railway Aunty’ by Mohan Sikka, director Ajay Bahl not only shifts from one theme to the other gradually, but also unfolds it in contradiction with societal structures and narratives about human relations. Although the audience can straight away relate ‘sarika aunty’ with ‘savita bhabhi’, but the movie has more to do with nihilistic themes of self destruction and anxiety with lechery intoxicating the entire script till the very end. Keeping the issues intact, the movie, however, ends on a depressing note.
HereÂ are 8 things one cannot miss from the film –
1) Disgusted and dejected by relatives from the very beginning, the protagonist (Shadab Kamal) is a young final year ‘B.A. Pass’ student who is struggling in a deprived economic condition after his father’s death, and is the sole care-taker of his sisters. He is considered a burden for those who were supposedly seen as members of the same blood. The decision to send his sisters to an orphanage gives highlights economic reality over the social norms of love, togetherness and ‘family’. Debunking the myth about the ‘perfect joint Indian families’, the movie tries to reconstruct the entire notion in today’s terms.
2) The character of Sarika aunty, played by Shilpa Shukla, is of an urban middle class housewife for whom boredom has reached a level that her escapism has resulted in kitty-parties and a carnivorous sexual appetite. The sultriness shown by the character depicts not only her experience but also highlights a desire for the performative nature she expects from her partner. The character depicts a dead end life of a woman who has been chained to the conforming roles provided by the default gender category. Her very act of exploring her sexual life poses a challenge not only to the existing norms, but also her position and identity in an Indian society as well.
3) If we take normality into picture, the movie can be visualized as an erotic neo-noir lacking a good star cast and certainly entering into a C- Grade category Bollywood film which supposedly achieved a censor board certificate. This is what I think most of the audience thought when I first entered the movie hall, as I was welcomed by empty chairs minus some couples who certainly were not interested in the movie! Point is, B.A. Pass goes beyond one’s expectations and touches themes which certainly weren’t done earlier in Indian cinema. Where on the one hand, one can charge the characters of being morally corrupt (if morals have anything to do with sex), reflection of darker themes of prostitution, adultery, rage and suicide leaves the audience stunned as the plot is perfectly intermingled reaching its depths and turns out to present an unwillingly acceptable reality.
4) The very fact that the protagonist is a ‘gigolo’ or a ‘male escort’Â for urban middle class housewives deprived of an active sex life contradicts the notion for those conformists who straight jacket women for being morally as well as socially corrupt. The voyeurism involved shows the supposedly ‘darker’ side of us which everyone practices secretly but overtly ignores in public. Also, one gets to notice the moribund lives where women spend time in watching sitcoms and characters from the plots supposedly have a deeper connection with them, therefore neglecting the real counterparts. At one point where an elderly woman wishes not for sexual pleasure but to have a conversation with the protagonist shows the hollowness and communication gap she had in the relation with her husband, again provoking thoughts about the traditional approach and ideological construct we have towards marriage.
5) In a major part of the movie, the protagonist is shown spending his time in a cemetery where he often plays chess with a friend and roams around carrying a book about chess tactics by Garry Kasparov. The chessboard can be read as a place where every character is vicious enough to make their move forward and the final catch turns out to be one where the winner takes all and the loser is left to a state of desolation.
6) Somewhere in the middle, one is made to realize that what was supposed to be an orphanage is actually a brothel working in disguise. The protagonist’s sisters are too young to decipher what was actually happening around and the former continues to struggle with an existential crisis and the dual characters to which he sees no end .Though both sisters successfully elope later on, the appalling reality which the movie also depicts is of the lives of women who get exploited and are forced to enter this profession due to financial instability and lack of societal concerns.
7) It is worth mentioning how the art of sexual gratification is explored through commendable cinematography and professional dedication by the actors, therefore not leading the movie to a mere erotic play. Here, physical pain induced is seen in a positive light as a way for higher carnal pleasure as characters are seen practicing asphyxiophilia. As the movie progresses towards its end, the sadist nature of Sarika aunty overwhelms the stabbing scene where the character tends to drive sexual pleasure instead of showcasing catharsis. However, one finds the characters, in between sex and as participants, congealed in a relation devoid of love. Lust and voluptuous desire becoming the overarching reasons for the union.
8) Somewhere in totality, the movie also projects the social construct of masculinity not only in an economic sphere but also in mental and sexual terms. The anti-hero’s expectation of a ‘man’ and not a ‘boy’ in her bed shows the desire for sexual competence. She not only trains the protagonist but also boasts of her teaching skills probably celebrating her ‘freedom’, that too in a private sphere. On the flip side, the struggle to be economically stable and become a bread earner for the family constantly haunts the protagonist. The display of a crude material reality beyond human relations is vividly visible, for the entire act of being a male escort is done for monetary benefits.
However, the darker portrait emerges when Sarika is ‘punished’Â for adultery by her husband, and is made to realize her social position by an act of sexual assault.
The question that arises is that of manliness constantly trying to project its superiority not only through societal norms but also through sexual aggression. This act also becomes visible yet again when the protagonist himself becomes a victim of his own identity where he gets gang raped leaving the screen in blood and the audience mentally disturbed.