Grudge Mumbai’s constant noise? What if someone took it away? Writer-turned-director Annie Zaidi’s latest short film asks this question.
Imagine a Mumbai without the incessant loud noise. A city where you cannot generate sound beyond a permissible decibel limit. A breach of the rule, imposed by a strict regime, will lead to serious consequences.
This is the setting of Annie Zaidi’s new short film, Decibel. Lina (Rasika Dugal) checks into a State Sleep Remedial Facility, meant for those who cannot sleep well at home. But Lina starts missing the rhythm of her regular life and breaks the rules of the facility to seek it.
Decibel is one of seven short films that make up Shor Se Shuruaat, which released last week in theatres. The central theme, as the name suggests, is noise.
Each film-maker was mentored by a veteran. Zaidi was mentored by film-maker Sriram Raghavan. “Mumbai is so noisy, I find myself getting frazzled. There’s not a single quiet day. Initially, I thought of doing something around the stress of noise, but then I thought it’d be more interesting to flip it around. Noise is unpleasant because it’s forced upon you. But if you cannot make noise, you’re tempted to,” says Zaidi.
Best known for her novels (Known Turf, Gulab, Sleep Tight), Zaidi has been dabbling in direction since 2012. She now has four short films to her credit. “I’d been toying with the idea of doing something in the visual space for years. The power of what you see is strong because it’s visceral and immediate,” she says.
The city often plays an important role in Zaidi’s work. Her debut short film, Ek Red Color ki Love Story (2012), was inspired by the loneliness one feels in the sprawling metropolis. “I feel characters are shaped by their environment, and the place you live in is a huge determining factor,” she says.
Zaidi, who’s from the Sirohi district of Rajasthan, first moved to Mumbai in 1999 to study. Coming from a small town, she admits that she had a huge cultural (and sensory) shock. “I don’t think I got over it,” she says, adding, “Mumbai is where I’ve lived the longest. Living, working and commuting here is gruelling. My first impression was that you had to learn to hang on by the skin of your teeth. That still remains my impression.” Mumbai also played a role in Zaidi’s film education. As a journalism student here (she studied at Xavier Institute of Communications), she was exposed to world cinema.
Growing up, the only English movie she was allowed to watch was The Sound of Music (1965). She says, “I come from the pre-cable era. My mother did not allow us to watch television at all. It was seen as an idiot box.” Later, she was allowed to watch for an hour a day, but she often broke the rule. “At one point, I was watching everything, including Chaupal (a rural development programme) and Krishi Darshan (a programme on farmers) on Doordarshan,” she admits.
Zaidi also has vivid memories of watching films played by travelling cinema companies. “There were no cinema halls back then. Between ages five and seven, I often saw movies on projectors set up in the middle of a field. We couldn’t get new movies for a long time, so we saw a lot of black and white movies and older movies from the ’60s and ’70s.”