Anu is a smart but painful short film from Pulkit Arora that uses space to fantastic results. You mourn with Prabha Ravi’s titular character as she handles the challenge of quarantine with her grief. An emotionally charged film that compels you with every frame.
When a recent widow moves to New Zealand from India, she’s forced to confront her grief by completing an ordinary ritual in an extraordinary circumstance: quarantine.
Going into hotel quarantine was an endurance for anyone who encountered it over the pandemic. However, in Pulkit Arora’s second short film, we are put in the horrible position of watching someone still grieving, having to go through it alone with only messages and memories to keep her going.
Prabha Ravi is phenomenal; there are no other words for it. She commands your attention and moves you greatly throughout the 13 minutes. Her near-wordless performance impacts you purely from her facial reactions to things. Be it the mourning while she listens to her dead husband’s voice messages. The messages are usually of nothing of importance, just going to the shops, etc, but it is all she has of his voice, and she will cling to it for as long as she can. To even find some self-satisfaction, a small, tiny semblance of joy at creatively getting around holding her own Pind-daan.
Her pain reverberates throughout Anu, with Ravi’s performance a purposefully muted one. She doesn’t overreact when things go wrong with the ritual or with her mourning, so when we see the issues with the sim change in her phone, it becomes all the more powerful. In that regard, it’s quite an intelligent direction from Arora, who guides his actress to give us a performance to remember. When we see her almost haunted as the cleaners sort her room, you are broken for her.
Via the phone messages, you hear that her son doesn’t fully grasp the importance of holding the Pind-daan for his father. As much as it is to allow his soul to be at peace, it is just as much for Anu herself. She hasn’t been able to let go of her love; she clings to him, be it with his jacket or those messages. She is still grieving and having such a move in a traumatic time in the world and for herself to give that final goodbye. Pure bad luck has made it happen that this ritual would have to fall while she is in quarantine, and with little to no help, she is stuck effectively in no man’s land. It just so happens that no man’s land is more apt than she would care to admit.
Pulkit Arora and Director of Photography Adam Luxton do fantastic work blocking out these scenes with Ravi and how Luxton can give us so much space in what will feel like a cell for Anu. For most of the short film, Luxton has the camera pulled back from Anu instead of what you expect. In a film like this, you would almost assume the camera would always be on top of her. However, the camera is at a distance to show how isolated Anu is at the moment. Those shots of her sitting at her little table with the window open and life just there in view as she sits alone are great imagery. She is isolated from those who could and should be there supporting her. All they can do is send those messages.
By having the camera at a distance so that not even the audience can be there for Anu, we become more attentive to how she is living. It is almost as if we are checking in on her mental state. Silence also fills the film, both comfortable and uncomfortable. You hazard a guess from the voice messages that out of the two, Anu’s husband was the talkative one for the two. So now that her partner is gone, and with no one there, who does she talk to? This insular nature has you worried for her as the film progresses. We hope it will make her less subdued when we hear those bursts of noise of messages on her phone, of the door knocking for her food, even just moving around. However, she is a woman who is so weighed down by her grief that only one thing will possibly help it.
It is very smart filmmaking and writing from Pulkit Arora, who has firmly marked himself as a filmmaker to look out for here. He provides a deft touch to his film that betrays that this is only his second short film as a director. There is an abundance of talent with him, and hopefully, this isn’t the last we see of Prabha Ravi either, as she has acting chops that we need to see on screen more. Anu is an excellent film that becomes a cathartic experience.
The Bolton International Film Festival is running physically from October 4th – 8th and Online from the 11th – 22nd October. For more information please click here.
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