In Dhobi Ghat director Kiran Rao in her final edit of the film excised a fifth character. Selva, a migratory construction worker, ended up on the cutting room floor, eventually showing up on the DVD as a deleted scene. Rao argued the decision to cut Selva’s story was to do with pacing and narrative considerations. The Selva’s of Mumbai are an invisible mass. By leaving out Selva articulates an invisibility. In fact the decision to remove Selva from the film ties in to something very telling about the representational anxieties of a contemporary middle class art cinema who seem relatively unconcerned with subaltern politics when compared particularly to the sympathies of parallel cinema. Nonetheless, most of the ideologically engaged attempts to contest the representations of the migratory construction worker has come from women directors including Anusha Rizvi (Peepli Live).
Liar’s Dice, the debut feature by Malayalam actress turned director Geethu Mohandas, reiterates the story of the migratory worker but re-genders the narrative so that much of the action unfolds from the perspective of a woman who is also the lead character. We begin in Chitkul, a remote mountain village on the Indian-Tibet border. Kamala, a young woman, is concerned that her husband who has gone to the city to work has not contacted her in over five days. Kamala realises that the villagers are not interested in helping her so she takes her daughter Manasa and sets off on a journey to track down her husband. Along the way Kamala encounters a man who was once part of the border police, Nawazuddin, who reluctantly helps mother and daughter, taking them to Delhi.
In terms of genre, the episodic narrative structure takes the form of a road movie but Mohandas is careful to keep the ideological theme of the migratory worker’s plight very much in the foreground. Thus, what we get is a road movie with a striking socio-political edge epitomised in an unsettling denouement riddled with ambiguity concerning the unsympathetic actions of Nawazuddin. In many ways, the power of this film resides in an ending that frames the migratory worker as not only anonymous but replaceable in a capitalist system which demands a troubling servitude. One could argue Mohandas comes the closest to lifting the lid on such a closed world, examining with a understated style the cruel realities it harbours for the contemporary lower class Indian family especially women. Expect much more from the talented Geethu Mohandas in the future.
Liar’s Dice has been chosen as India’s official entry for the 2015 Academy Awards.