Social distancing: Tanuja Chandra on post-Pandemic urban social life
The thing is, I’m a touchy-feely film director. I believe our bodies are eminently intelligent; the unspoken vitalities we emanate, these have an eloquence that all the clever verbal wizardry we toss into the air cannot hope to achieve. And so, I tend to reach out often to actors and crew - I embrace wildly, I hold hands freely, I’m given to pinching cheeks as well as the occasional pulling of hair.
This might be in part because of my expressive manner as a person, but it’s heightened on a film set. Heck, a film set itself is a heightened version of life, a tiny universe unto itself where a strong scent of mortality hangs under the lighting rigs. It’s a kind of structured lunacy with a timeline – it will end soon enough. And when such blunt temporariness stares at you, you, the beleaguered director, know that effective communication is everything. For what else is direction but thoughts, feelings, longings, expressed and received. And believe me, words don’t cut it – I’m not one to run out of words easily, and I’m telling you, words fall pitifully short.
Therefore folks, the question that begs an urgent response, particularly for me, is this: months down the line, when the world will no longer be the same, when the extraordinary upheaval we’re experiencing comes to be in a decline, how the hell am I going to direct?
Will I flail my arms (which I do in abundance) from a distance to convey an emotion to an actor? Won’t I hold an actor (which also, I do in abundance) when they’re nervous or underconfident? Or then, while watching images of a scene unfold on a monitor, will my hand not reach out unselfconsciously to the assistant next to me noting down continuity? Will my admonishing finger no longer poke the arm of a crew member who might be shuffling his feet most annoyingly during a quiet and sensitive scene? Will I not at the end of a challenging day sling my arm over the sweaty, tired shoulder of some head of department whom I adore? Will I be mindful of not letting my throaty, massive laugh burst forth unrestricted, for fear that I might spray droplets around me, on teammates, equipment, food?
How in this godforsaken, new-normal, will I direct.
How will we love, moving forward? Friends, family, lovers, staff, colleagues, strangers. Will it be incumbent on people we meet to tell us where they’re immediately or in recent days coming from? Will the host of a get-together direct guests to the bathroom to wash hands upon entry, will revelers dilly-dally a moment before sipping a pretty, blue drink handed at a bar? Will a person we find attractive sense that their charm isn’t as easily drawing our playful fingers to tap theirs, let alone the momentary dipping of the head riskily close to them when reserve really thaws? Will group selfies be less populated? Will very old humans hesitate to cuddle the young, and will newly-arrived humans be seldom gathered in our arms for a shot of instant, squeezy delight? Will goodbye hugs be summarily replaced by awkward waves?
Will first dates now, include annexures to the regular set of 20 questions and will second and third engagements strictly be meals across a table or will a suitably enticed twosome amble over to a more private ambience with no second thought?
Movie halls, restaurants, malls, exhibitions, literary fairs, music concerts – will their vibe ever return to its earlier abandon? If not, if a lot of the noise of the world has died down, will we then be forced to listen to each other, to ourselves? Will the tenderness at the heart of all the pain and bewilderment we’ve been feeling in these weeks and months, bring about a new kind of communication, one that’s less artifice, more truth? Where we may be able to shed all our effortful need to impress, and instead become unknowing and gentle? In my (humble) opinion, this would be restorative for film directors, I’d definitely be down for it. However, the probability of urban, social life becoming forever transformed brings me to another important (and rather more troubling) question.
Will stories change?
(Bio: Tanuja is an author as well as a filmmaker. She is known for movies like Dushman, Sur, Sangharsh and the Irrfan Khan-starrer Qarib Qarib Singlle.)
From HT Brunch, April 5, 2020
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