If you are a Facebook addict, this one is hard to miss. For the past two days, my news feed has been abuzz with the heated discussions going on about this film and its controversial content which has split its viewers into two. The reactions are fascinating and amusing to say the least. For those who haven’t heard of it, there is a new short film doing the rounds on the Internet. Memories of a Machine is a 10-min Indian short film by Shailaja Padindala, a Karnataka-based filmmaker and made its premiere at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) in February.
It is one of the most polarizing things I’ve seen. The reactions online – mostly from Malayalis – range from “What the hell is this shit? You call this art? This is so wrong! It glorifies child sexual abuse!” to “I didn’t find anything wrong with it. It doesn’t glorify anything”. So, what exactly is the deal with Machine? Is it spreading a wrong message? Is it art? Is it sensible filmmaking or just pretentious garbage? In my view, it’s just a simple filmmaking experiment that has the potential to get interpreted in the wrong way. And judging by most of the Facebook reactions, it definitely has been interpreted in the wrong way. It has made a lot of people uncomfortable.
I’m not trying to go against the grain or anything but, to be honest, I didn’t see anything wrong with the film. First of all, glorifying child abuse? How exactly does it do that? C’mon, let’s face it: Child abuse has occurred in the past (and still occurs) with or without the presence of this film (or any other film for that matter). Are you going to overlook the possibility that there could be at least one girl on this whole planet who may have enjoyed it? And what if this film compels some woman to come forward and talk about her dark past? The woman in the film, played by Kani Kustruti, doesn’t quite see what happened to her as necessarily “bad” or “dark”.
For her, it was some kind of Eureka moment. She talks about how as an 8-year old, she was sexually abused by a tall and handsome man who worked as a peon at her school. She describes her experience – by the way, this was her first sexual experience – as incredibly arousing, one which led to her reaching an orgasm. She liked it so much that she wanted to experience it again. This made her very curious and this curiosity led to her exploring her body and discovering masturbation and also something called ‘orgasm’. She is recounting all this to a man behind the camera who, we later learn, is her husband. She even tells him that this man never threatened her or made her feel scared.
At one point, he asks her, “But didn’t you think that it was wrong?” and she says, “I didn’t know if it was right or wrong at the time. At that point, it was a sexual exploration for me.” To this, her husband responds with “Don’t tell this to a pedophile”. Many viewers found this strange. “She sounds like a mental case”, said some. In a way, this line is like some sort of twisted joke. Actually, the whole film is. This is where I’m suddenly reminded of a Korean film called Memories of Murder, whose title shares some resemblance with this one’s. In the climax of that film, the protagonist looks directly at us. It’s as if he is looking at the real killer who could be watching the film at that moment. Is that what Machine is doing here as well? It’s open to interpretation.
And as I’ve said earlier, this is a filmmaking experiment in the same vein as Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (there is a blatant homage to it here in the form of its poster lying on the woman’s bed). Or does that poster allude to something about her character? Shailaja even begins the film with a line by Von Trier. Kusruthi’s convincingly natural performance coupled with the handheld camera work gives it a raw, documentary feel. If there is at least one positive thing that it tells us, it’s that it’s okay to discuss your sexuality with someone you absolutely trust and also that there is nothing wrong with masturbation. Now go ahead and call me a pseudo-intellectual.
Here’s the link to the film: