Don Palathara’s movie, shown at IFFK, focuses on a few bickering in a car
A static camera in a car that focuses on two characters who constantly bicker through most of an hour and a half – that’s Don Palathara’s Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam in one line. But one-liners can be misleading about what leaves it unspoken.
Don, who has the rare distinction of having two of his films screened at this edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), deviates from his trajectory in his fourth film, but keeps the experiment that was shown in his first film Shaving further.
The story is about Maria (Rima Kallingal) and Jithin (Jithin Puthenchery), cohabiting partners, who go to a clinic in their car for a pregnancy test. Maria demands a ‘solution’ from him. He is a small actor without a steady income. Their parents have no hint of their relationship. She is not ready to have a baby and has plans for higher education as well. She thinks he is irresponsible and that the baby would add to their burden.
This demand for a solution triggers a back and forth conversation, causing them to dig up old wounds. You can feel the tension slowly increase in the car, accentuated by the closed space in which we are trapped with it. The only movements of the camera are that of the car, and the constantly changing scene outside the car, seen through the rear and side windows.
The film can be seen as a cross between Jafar Panahi’s Cab, in a car, and Richard Linklater’s Before sunrise series consisting of conversations between two lovers. Here, however, much of the conversation, including a phone call and a script that Jithin reads during a break, revolves around relationships, rather than being random. Don and both artists manage to make the conversation flow seem organic rather than scripts.
While Jithin is portrayed as a laid-back young man with some flaws, Maria, who has heartfelt grievances about his lack of seriousness, sometimes comes across as someone obsessed with blaming him.
But the mentality she finds herself in at the time gives her some leeway.
In the midst of this experiment, there is a delightful scene poking fun at experimental cinema, when Maria, a journalist, has a phone interview with a rather pompous director, who says that experimental cinema is a term used by those who have no idea what they make. Don clearly has an idea of what he is creating while on his way to yet another experiment.