One of the most gripping movies at the National Film Development of India’s ongoing Film Bazaar here is Sanalkumar Sasidharan’s An Off-Day Game. A classic buddy movie, it has a slow start, but gives us ample opportunity to understand that this is no ordinary adventure which five grown up men have in a desolate bungalow.
As the film begins to unfold, the first images are of an election campaign in Kerala, known for its overly political atmosphere where matters of the state are as important and intrinsic as, let us say, brushing one’s teeth.
As a multitude of political parties end their cacophonous crusades through the streets of the city, five friends, taking advantage of the the poll-day holiday retreat to the bungalow, armed with a liberal supply of liquor. As the men begin to drink and get tipsier, a woman cooks food, essentially chicken.
The men argue about who would kill the rooster, the cook shrugging off that responsibility. Finally, two of the men overcome their moral dilemma, and butcher the bird.
There are other arguments that keep the group exercised, allegations and counter-allegations, providing both a pastime and cause for rancour. One of the men is so livid that he walks out of the bungalow in pouring rain -- till the others chase him, cajole him for many minutes before he agrees to return to what threatens to become a terribly tragic party.
Sasidharan takes us into little alleyways of male behavioural pattern where two of the pals try to get the woman’s attention, which she steadfastly refuses. One of them gets slapped in the bargain and has to retreat in humiliation.
Till, of course, the movie begins to get into a sinister mood with the drinking men starting to play a game with deathly ramifications. A game they had played as kids which in their adulthood appears all too menacing, sans the innocence of childhood.
A film -- based on a best-selling short story of Malayalam writer R. Unni -- An Off-Day Game, is deeply provocative exploring issues like political corruption, caste prejudices and colour discrimination. Many layered and crisply narrated, the movie is often compelling, despite a couple of sequences that need trimming.
But above all, it is a film that is loaded with meaning and message. “An Off-Day Game talks about power play”, Sasidharan told this writer yesterday in the course of an interview. “ I have through my movie tried to draw a parallel between India’s political system and the game that the five men play. We have a wonderful Constitution, which encourages us to change our mindset. But we are not doing that. We are averse to change. We are playing our own games within the ambit of the Constitution”.
Sasidharan averred that he had shown two of India’s most pressing problems: corruption and discrimination against dark skinned people as well the society’s downtrodden. “In the game which is played out in my film, when the cop finds the king guilty of a crime, a way is found out of this messy situation through bribery. But when one the five friends, a dark-skinned man, perhaps belonging to a lower religious caste, is caught, he has no means of escaping punishment, which is utterly unjust and cruel”. And shocking, to say the least.
The young director contended he had used colour to convey social discrimination, because it is more visible.
Also, the movie captures the evil of alcoholism, how men turn into monsters under the influence of drink. “Kerala is the number one alcohol consuming State in India”, Sasidharan said. “Drinking has become a part of our lives, and regrettably so”.
An Off-Day Game, finally, is a brutal look at the way the Constitution is used for the benefit of some, at the way caste politics and colour prejudices have been wrecking our lives.