“Fish lose their color when they’re scared.”

As part of the short film program of this year’s Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles, Sakshi Gulati’s thesis film for the Film and Television Institute of India will be screened alongside many other short features. Her movie explores the issue of urban life as well as its consequences on the human spirit focusing on a small family who have just recently moved to a bigger city.

Because they search for any means to try and get by, a father and a mother of a small family (Rohit Kokate and Anita Dengale) have decided to rent the space in front of their balcony to an advertisement agency. Blocking their view on the world outside is always a large ad for either fast food or insurance agencies, a condition which is slowly taking its toll on the various family members.

Neon is screening at
Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles

From the very first images on, a viewer will notice the interesting visual storytelling of the film. As the son of the family lies on the floor trying to sleep, his mother attempts to wake him up and go somewhere else which he does not want. Combined with the omnipresent humming noise and the fluorescent light the image seems strangely peaceful as well as artificial and odd. The hand of his mother caresses the sleeping child, a gesture of comfort normally, but under the circumstance almost surreal.

Eventually, as the dimensions of the advert are revealed, the true nature of this and many other images will be understood within the context of the strange situation. The shiny world of the advert which filters the world through slogans like “Add value to your life” creates a stark contrast to the life within the walls of the apartment. Whereas the parents do their best to keep up the family idyll, there is a growing emotional distance between them as well as a physical exhaustion. As the father tries to find some sleep at work, the electronic beeping from one of the machines next to him is strongly reminiscent of a heart-rate monitor. Life and energy is slowly being drained out of him as well as his family.

Interestingly, while their parents find themselves estranged with their new surroundings, their children have found their ways of adapting. Comfortable with the artificial world of electronic displays, they have come to accept this world and this reality, like the fish they keep in an aquarium inside the apartment. However, especially the son’s preoccupation with the ants living in the cracks of the apartment walls and the fish seem to hint at a secret longing for something real, something natural unlike the plastic world of advertisement.

“Neon” is a very insightful film with beautifully designed shots, each of which giving various options to read and understand the characters as well as their surroundings. Given the complexity of the themes explored in this short feature, the diversity and openness of this film will surely find many admirers in an attentive audience. Above all, this is an impressive piece of work from director Sakshi Gulati and cinematographer Ranjeet Mane.

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Ever since I watched Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" for the first time (and many times after that) I have been a cinephile. While much can be said about the technical aspects of film, coming from a small town in Germany, I cherish the notion of art showing its audience something which one does normally avoid, neglect or is unable to see for many different reasons. Often the stories told in films have helped me understand, discover and connect to something new which is a concept I would like to convey in the way I talk and write about films. Thus, I try to include some info on the background of each film as well as a short analysis (without spoilers, of course), an approach which should reflect the context of a work of art no matter what genre, director or cast. In the end, I hope to pass on my joy of watching film and talking about it.