Sunday, April 10, 2005

Masters of Depressing Indian Cinema

We saw Aparna Sen's Yugant (1995) yesterday at the "Masters of Indian Cinema" Film Festival at the ImaginAsian. It's a serious, well-made film about a dysfunctional marriage, environmental destruction, and perhaps also the midlife challenges experienced by people involved in the arts ("where do I go from here?"). It clearly shows Aparna Sen's skills. Two years ago, her Mr. and Mrs. Iyer was a big art-house hit -- an art movie about communalism that succeeded in being pretty entertaining.

Since it's unlikely that readers will have access to this film anywhere, I won't review Yugant in any depth. Rather, I'll just pose a question:

Is it necessarily the case that "depressing" films leave you depressed? Oddly, though this film shows people who are deeply unhappy -- and not even in an ironic way, a la Todd Solondz, Woody Allen, etc. -- I walked away in a pretty good mood. Sen engages her audience in various philosophical and formal problems as she moves the story forward (and yes, down). The result is that, even with a pretty unhappy ending, the film doesn't leave you feeling down. I think part of it is that Sen uses mood-setting music quite sparingly (though she's not as spartan as the Dogme 95 people are. But a big part of the absence of depression-affect is the philosophical interest the film provokes.

In short, one must in all honesty describe Yugant as "a depressing film," but it is a depressing film that doesn't leave the viewer depressed...

One other quick comment: I was a little shocked by the condition of the print shown at the ImaginAsian. It's not their fault: this is the original film, shipped from India for this festival. I have a feeling that few good prints of films like Yugant exist, anywhere...

The film had clearly been scratched badly from use and misuse, and was a litte unstable. Also, yesterday was the first time I ever saw the melting of film in the projector, projected on screen. It was distressing; it means that the next people to watch Yugant are going to be missing a scene.

5 comments:

coolie said...

I felt extremely depressed and sad after watching 'Million Dollar Baby' and I felt manipulated too. I did not enjoy the kind of emotional distress the last third of the film puts you through. I am trying to think, though, of a depressing film that didnt leave me feeling depressed.

++++I walked away in a pretty good mood. Sen engages her audience in various philosophical and formal problems as she moves the story forward (and yes, down). The result is that, even with a pretty unhappy ending, the film doesn't leave you with what psychoanalysts would call a negative affect++++

- Perhaps it is related to the idea and feeling of Aristotelian tragic catharsis, 'the purging of the emotions of fear and pity'.

Lucy Tartan said...

Hello. I'm new to your blog (which is superb.)
I'd offer Beau travail as an instance of a putatively 'depressing' movie that leaves (me, at least) just about tingling with joy. The movie's story is a rota of loss, disconnection, exile, betrayal & ends with the suicide of the main figure, but it's uplifting all the same. Then again, I was made happy by Million Dollar Baby too.

Ophélie said...

Hi,
I've just watched this movie because I have to write a paper on Aparna Sen (who is by the way one of my favorite directors)... I liked it a lot, but the DVD was so badly made that I couldn't see the end... Could you help me and tell me what's happening after the sea is on fire?
thanks a lot for your help!
Ophélie

Ashwin Raghu said...

What's also shocking - apart from your print of the movie - is the absence of any reviews etc or any just anything *about* Yugant on the internet.

jaman.com has come out with free streaming movies in a tie-up with NDFC (National Film Development Corporation India) - their print of Yugant which I watched was quite agreeable.

Anonymous said...

Aparna Sen’s new movie is out The Japanese Wife ( movie review) getting good reviews. And doesn't sound too depressing!