Sunday, January 29, 2006

Yours Emotionally - II: My take

Portraying desi angst over inane traditions is a Gurinder Chadha specialty; most of her films poke fun at the ‘mummyji’ and the ‘auntyji’, stereotyping them in the process. Contrasting different queer, male identities—South Asian, ‘Western’ (White, American)—is also not a new idea: Jimmy Mistry starrer ‘Touch of Pink’ executed it with some success not too long ago, although I found the passé, comic attempt rather insipid.

Sridhar Rangayan and Niranjan Kamatkar—friends, former roommates and now trans-continental collaborators on ‘Yours Emotionally’—have tried a more serious approach to the questions of identity versus behavior, gay versus homosexual, out versus closeted (and married), desi versus Indian, and desi versus Western. Dense though this may seem, the film fails to plumb any depth of emotion, leaving one feeling cold.

But before I say more, here’s the synopsis from the film’s website:
Ravi & Paul, two friends from Leicester, end up attending a gay party in the small Indian town of Shimoga, upon an invitation of Ravi’s Parsee email-pal Jeh from Mumbai. A genteel dreamer Ravi instantly falls in love with Mani - a dark and handsome local working man.
Ravi and Paul also meet an older male couple, Murthy and Anna, now in their sixties. Murthy has lived in the UK to avoid marriage. When he returns to attend his mother’s funeral, his lover Anna (a married man by then) convinces him to stay back. After his wife’s death, Anna decides to join Murthy and they run a hotel. Both Ravi & Paul are surprised to meet the older same-sex couple.
Although Ravi can’t let go of his newfound love, Mani cannot overcome the vast gap that exists between them. Mani is under constant pressure to get married to a woman. When Ravi asks Mani to accompany him to UK, Mani shows very little willingness. Ravi seeks Murthy and Anna’s help, but the couple hide behind words of wisdom and express inability to bring Ravi and Mani together. Tension brews between Ravi and Paul due to sexually charged Mani and the situation highlights some nasty cracks in their friendship... Mani throws in a surprise at the farewell meeting that Ravi’s asked for...

And here’s what the director says about the film:

‘Yours Emotionally’ is as much about love and passion as about cultural contrasts and gay identity as perceived from different angles. Though these elements are to form the backdrop, they actually thrust themselves to the forefront, entangling the five principal characters in its emotional web. The film is a tribute to gay men who negotiate their same-sex-love identities within the stringent social, religious, cultural boundaries. It is a tribute to their grit and strength at fighting some of the stereotypes.The film, treated in a cinema vérité kind of realism with surrealistic passages, is set in its protagonist’s ‘mindspace’ and reflects his love, passion, happiness and fears through colors tones, textures and transitions. The real and imaginary merge to create a bizarre world of emotions that is actually his journey through a holiday.While making a film it is always difficult to present realities without prejudice… and keep a balance - both cultural and emotional. There are always huge expectations from anything made of this nature since there are very few opportunities of public expressions for such issues. In that sense, ‘Yours Emotional’ has been a challenge to me as a director and I hope I have been able to do justice to the characters.

It’s a fairly plausible, real story whose value is its documentation of the realities of India’s homosexual males. But what does it do beyond that? There are a few niggling problems with the film, but one could overlook them if one connects with the characters. However, I do not feel the pain of Ravi’s doomed love. Nor does the Muthy-Anna relationship warm the proverbial cockles of one’s heart. Am I hard-hearted? Perhaps my boyfriend would agree. But seriously, the film fails to hold my interest. The length—86 minutes—seem like a drag. At the end of which I feel empty, meaningless, soulless.

‘Gulabi Aaina’ is less than half the length of ‘Yours Emotionally’ but has enough drama to hold your attention. And there’s the witty, bitchy repartee as well. (Click here for my comments on ‘Gulabi Aaina.) Maybe I had high expectations of ‘Yours Emotionally’, given the film’s theme and its name. (By the way, the exclamation in its name is certainly unwarranted.)

There’s little emotional quotient here. But where are things going wrong? The problem perhaps is that I have little patience for people like Ravi who fall in love after one night of sex and are willing to take strangers home (in this case, the UK!) I don’t deny there’s love at first sight and people lose their heads over it. But do they deserve any sympathy for being obsessed by the objects of their affection? And should Mani get any sympathy for being spineless? Anna and Murthy may be victims of their circumstances but one hears of many Annas and Murthys all the time. Now that they are free of encumbrances, what’s holding them back from coming out of the closet and affirming their relationship?

Well-begun is half done. But the ‘party’ scenes, are not aesthetically done—there’s a squalid, weird feel to them, which casts a shadow over the rest of the film. The producers are even proud of the film having “lots of hot scenes” (as advertised on the website). I am no prude and I admit where there are two gays there’s likely to be sex (and where there are three, an orgy!). And it’s not as if there’s excessive nudity. It’s just that the camera makes it look very ugly. Okay, so how does one portray an orgy? I don’t know but then can’t we have a different beginning to set the tone?

Hats off to the cast for not shying away from a stigmatized subject. Some of them are professional actors, and for their courage in taking up the assignment they deserve a pat on the back.

'Yours Emotionally' is no laugh-out-loud-at-the-clash-of-cultures film. However, its solemn slant and decadent tint are a drag on its offering any emotional high.