An inter-cultural couple? Bad idea.
Hitchhiking in the night? Bad idea again.
Repeating the same mistakes with a gang of sadist sociopaths? Let me stop here.
This is exactly what forms the premise of director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s provocatively titled S Durga. Eerily reminiscent of the recent assault on a female actor in Kerala, Sasidharan’s film opens with a detailed panorama of the horrifying Hindu religious ritual called Garudan Thookkam. Performed in the honour of Durga, the invincible Hindu Goddess, the ceremony is projected in the film from a non-judgmental point of view. Soon the main plot takes shape and we realize the irony that Sasidharan intends to establish. Pivoted around a Hindi-speaking woman called Durga and her Muslim-Malayali boyfriend Kabeer, S Durga is about a couple entangled in a labyrinth of misadventures in an eventful night.
Very much a character in the film, S Durga reintroduces the notorious Maruti Omni, a pop culture favourite for abductions. The runaway lovers in question seek a lift from two suspicious looking men and the film centres on how a journey to the railway station turns a vigorous nightmare. Throughout the runtime, Kabeer and Durga hop in and out of the vehicle, only to get harassed in different magnitudes. It is the wee hours and the area is secluded. Families observe a brawl on the road and comfortably retreat into their cosy shells. Patrolling policemen are more intrigued about the driver’s ethnicity than the vehicle’s documents. In fact, it is this brief encounter with a gang of cops that makes for the most engaging minutes in S Durga.
Be it the goddess motif in the van or the weapons of destruction that the men carry in the hood, S Durga originates from a godless universe. Also bearing traces of several atypical road film tropes, the film successfully creates an air of claustrophobia within the poky van. Sasidharan’s directorial canvas is stylish and the shock value of his material is supremely on point. However, when the writing begins to harp excessively on the very same narrative device for a taxing duration, the film loses its brakes. The point that he is trying to make comes out as overtly doctored which, eventually, dilutes the impact. As a result, the runaway couple and their forbearance appear almost synthetic towards the final reel – which is unfortunate.
In what could have been a striking statement on women’s safety and Right to Freedom and Choice in India, S Durga lends itself an exploitative flavour. Yes, the packaging is stylish with its trippy score and disconcerting cinematography. Performances are uniform throughout and ditto for the dialogues and the distressingly vicious situations. It is just that S Durga leaves a lot to be desired despite all the aforementioned merits. Or probably Sasidharan himself had the bar raised for himself with the fantastic Ozhivu Diwasathe Kali.
P.S.: Central Board of Film Certification ended up suggesting a change in the film’s title from ‘Sexy Durga’ to ‘S Durga’. The film was screened at 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival held from 12 to 18 October 2017.