AN OFF-DAY GAME (Dir. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, 2015, India: Malayalam)

1Director Sasidharan’s experimental, anthropological dispositif takes a group of friends, lets them drink, throws them into the jungle, and then steps back with his camera, adopting tableau to frame their cruel, animalistic and casteist behaviour. The effect is unnerving to say the least, made altogether confrontational with the presence of a lower caste woman who prepares a meal for the men and whom becomes a source of ridicule, and later physical abuse. Days and Nights in the Forest, one of Ray’s least appreciated films, is an inspiration for this similarly fortuitous and discordant tale of friendship that culminates in an acutely disturbing consummation. The first half of the film unfolds in a series of master shots and since none of the characters are given a formal introduction in the way of close ups creates a detachment placing upon the spectator the burden of observational study. Sasidharan takes no interest in sustaining plot, preferring to turn his camera on the characters, studying their actions, reactions and interactions as if it was an ethnographic project. What Sasidharan seizes upon is that intricate psychological testing amongst the friends masks a deeper distrust, contempt and antagonism, which rise to the surface in an uncomfortable and ultimately savage way. The ancient game the men agree to play in a drunken haze enacts a hidden social ritual, one that manifests an unconscious, primal longing for power, control and death.

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