'Six Feet High': Goa Film Bazaar
In the aftermath of a disastrous flood in the Himalayas, a man compulsively searches for the woman he left behind
Set against the devastating natural disaster of the floods and landslides that wreaked destruction in northern India last year, Six Feet High (Oraalppokkam) is not a disaster film per se but an inner journey to self-knowledge. In place of spectacular natural catastrophe scenes, it runs on painful feelings that eventually blossom into poetry. And while this crowd-funded first film from Kerala has an emotional realism that is easy to connect with, it leaves quite a bit to think about once the drama is over. A man’s incautious break with his girlfriend and her subsequent disappearance lead to something more than a simple missing person tale, a story that is both touchingly human and eerily metaphysical.
Even though debuting writer-director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan bites off a lot here and the ending suffers from some wheel-spinning, the story remains original and intriguing. Festivals should be particularly interested in this Indian indie, which took home the Fipresci and NETPAC awards for the best Malayalam language film at the recent Kerala Film Festival.
Just as the original title (which could also be translated Six Feet Deep) refers both to the depth of water and to the height of something solid, the love story begins with familiar concreteness before veering into profundity. Mahendran (Prakash Bare) and Maya (Meena Kandasamy) are two literary types from southern India who have been living together for five years. Their relationship is a comfy open marriage, at least for him, but her barbed comments about his latest girlfriend make it clear there’s trouble in paradise. They break up in the first scene: she takes the car, he gets the apartment.
The focus shifts to Mahendran as he wades through a series of hot ladies and alcohol-fueled one night stands. When the fun abates, he misses Maya. Right after he deletes her number from his phone, she calls him from Kedarnath in the high Himalayas – a relaxed, friendly chat that visibly deights him. But the next day floods devastate her area and she’s no longer reachable.
The determined realism of the early scenes creates a bond with these witty, likable people even as the atmosphere grows increasingly tense. Mahendran’s prickly way of asserting his right to sexual freedom makes him unpleasant but not unredeemable, and the audience will be rooting for the couple’s reconciliation, perhaps after a dramatic rescue in the mountains. But that is not this film.
The second half heads into deeper territory as Mahendran borrows a jeep and drives north to higher ground. His search for Maya takes place in an eerie, post-disaster stillness, which cinematographer Indrajith captures in chilling yet oddly peaceful images of the debris-strewn Ganges at Rishikesh and deep snowfalls wreathing smashed homes in the mountains. As his search continues, the narrative falls away along with his ego. One only wishes that the wandering sadhus and mysterious coincidences came together with more of a click, as the final scenes fail to connect.
Playing the uncommitted philosophy teacher forced to question his very existence, Malayalam actor Bare creates an anxious, self-deceiving but always believable hero, while non-pro Kandasamy (a poet and activist from Chennai) makes a dignified, smart-talking female lead whose feelings are wholly contemporary. Though the film was evidently shot on a budget, its range of locations from the tropics to the Himalayas and some astonishingly beautiful landscapes open it up visually.
Production company: Kazhcha Film Forum in association with NIV Art and Cultural Society
Cast:Prakash Bare, Meena Kandasami, Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Shalini Joe, Thanmaya Manoj, Blessy Silvaster
Director, Screenwriter: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Executive producer: Derrick Sebastian
Director of photography: Indrajith
Production designer: Murukan
Editor: Appu N Bhattathiri
Music: Basil Joseph
No rating, 99 minutes