Film Diary: Ozhivu Divasathe Kali / An Off-Day Game (2016)
Why is this film not talked about enough? I rarely saw it being mentioned last year among cinephiles or in the news media. Or, maybe, I am sitting way up north to catch the noise about this low-budget Malayalam indie drama that earned the 2016 Kerala State Award for Best Film.
The phrase “toxic masculinity” is thrown around a lot while discussing male characters in Indian films and rightly so. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Ozhivu Divasathe Kali (English: An Off-Day Game) is an excellent study of what the phrase really means.
The setting is election day. The characters are five friends. These grown men travel to a secluded bungalow amid much greenery to booze and eat chicken. One of them wonders out loud, “If someone was killed and drowned here, no one would notice.” These men have different political beliefs, but on this day, they don’t want their theories to come between them. They just want to party. Hah, you wish.
In the beginning, the camera is kept at a distance. The five friends are in long shot after long shot. (By the way, this film has very few shots. Most shots continue for minutes and the dialogue is improvised) The banter is generic. You get to sense that things will go awry when you get a clearer idea of the group dynamics. For example, Dasan (Baiju Netto) is often joked about for his dark complexion. (He comes from a lower caste, and as the film progresses, caste tensions rise up to the surface) Dasan is casually ordered around and he doesn’t seem to mind. Or does he? When the group needs someone to climb a tree and get a jackfruit, they turn to Dasan. When they need someone to catch and kill the chicken that they will eat, they look at Dasan.
That aside, the men have problematic views towards women which start to show as they keep getting more and more drunk. The cook at the bungalow is a woman named Geetha (Abhija Sivakala). From time to time, one of the five men steps aside to ogle at Geetha or to flirt with her. A sense of dread begins to develop. Will she be raped? Will she be raped and killed? No, nothing of that sort happens.
But this building up of dread which director Sasidharan keeps creating repeatedly in An Off-Day Game is spectacular. The more riled up the five men got, the more this ominous feeling intensified in me. An Off-Day Game starts off slowly but picks up pace once the premise is established. The camera gets closer and the characters are now framed in mid-shots. By the end of the film, when hell has descended upon earth, the camera is buried in their faces.
At one point, a man who had earlier tried to chat up Geetha starts lecturing on women’s “democratic rights” for rejecting male advances. (By now, they are a few bottles down) He states that without a woman’s consent, if a man forces himself on her, it’s rape. His friend, who earlier whistled at Geetha (and lies that Geetha smiled back) disagrees with him and says that a man needs spine to force himself on a woman and laughs off the concept of rape. He calls it “machismo”. Then, the first guy asks, “So have you been raping your wife all these years?” and the second guy gets angry (“Don’t bring my wife into this. Family is different”) and this almost leads to a fight.
Meanwhile, another man has quietly taken his friends’ leave to follow Geetha as she is returning home after the day’s cooking. I went “Shit.” She barely escaped this pack of wolves and now, far away from the bungalow, in the jungle…? The man tries to grab Geetha but she slaps him, shouts, and then shakes a sickle. Humiliated, he returns to his group.
Now, the discussion gets political. After returning, this man begins arguing in favour of the Emergency and states that that period showed what good governance is. No one slacked off and every office babu worked on time. His friend, a government servant himself, saw his father tortured in the prison during the Emergency. He protests. Five minutes later, both are at each other’s throats and the man who got offended tries to leave. Somehow, this fight is also stopped.
This is a set-up where these men, with families back home, are starting to reveal themselves over alcohol. The masks start slipping off very early in the film and by the one-hour mark, they have been successfully revealed as monsters. It is then a question of how worse can they get from here. Like I wrote earlier about the building up of dread, there is a constant sense of Oh fuck, where will this lead to? throughout An Off-Day Game. Rest assured, it does not lead to anything nice. The end is brutal. By brutal, I don’t mean a gory ending. I mean, it will disturb you and force you to reconsider society and its men around you. I was kind of disturbed and it took me back to situations where I found myself in a long drinking session with friends, all male, and suddenly the conversation became hostile. I am glad that none of these moments ever led to an end as gruesome as that of An Off-Day Game, but then What can happen if men are left drunk in a room is also not the only point of An Off-Day Game.
One theme of An Off-Day Game is that it is a study of “toxic masculinity” as I mentioned in the beginning. Within each man in the film, there is a tendency to prove how manly he is to his friend. Or how less of a man his friend is. But there is also another theme at play here.
The film’s final fifteen minutes made me wonder if An Off-Day Game is a comment on how the privileged castes and classes have created a corrupt system under the aegis of the Indian Constitution wherein they can escape unscathed but the lesser privileged, the lower castes and the minorities get burned at the stake because they don’t have the means to buy favours. Right after watching the film, I read that, yes, indeed, that was a point Sasidharan was trying to make.
An Off-Day Game is really one of the best Indian independent films made in recent times. Made on a budget of just Rs 20 lakh, the film stars no big names. All the actors are very, very good in their roles. Each and every one of them. The background score is sparse, and the men are constantly surrounded by the sound of rain or crickets. That the setting and the characters appear so real made the watch uncomfortable, I think.
I kept thinking of the men I know. Those who are of my age. Or the neighbourhood uncles. Or the men I have met before such as my father’s friends. How do they really think? What can they really do if put in a violent situation? Sasidharan has also made the much acclaimed Sexy Durga (2017) and I am really looking forward to seeing that. I have read that Sexy Durga touches upon similar themes of the violence brimming in our masculine society and that it is also filled with nail-biting tension. Netflix, please get Sexy Durga for us.