“Feel the world.”
In a globalized world, we are more dependent on our senses than ever. Generally speaking, the modern urbanized environment does not fully work without the constant stream of voices and noises, the universe of olfactory impressions and, perhaps most importantly, the various layers of visual information we are subjected to each day. Considering this definition of our sensory world, we might come to the conclusions that the sheer overflow of information described before can be both overpowering as well as misleading. At the same time, a world which relies so much on a person’s functioning senses may label those without as social outsiders. Although there might be those who share the last statement, reality and experience proves how wrong it is and, somewhat ironically, how blind it makes us ourselves.
“Mounam” is the Tamil word for “silence” and also the title of Indian director R. Prem Kumar’s short feature in which he aims to explore the unique perspective of someone unable to hear the world around him. The protagonist (Mahesh Tasneem) has established a routine for his life, making it unnecessary for him to rely on sound. However, since he has been given a hearing aid, he is eager to try it out, resulting in the experience of a whole new world for him.
Although the style of narration is quite straight-forward, many viewers will be unable to shake the growing irritation in the first minutes of the film. Considering the film takes over the perspective of the main character, R. Prem Kumar confronts his viewers directly with the experience of walking through the world without sound. Additionally, the calm expression on Mahesh Tasneem’s face becomes all the more disturbing as we still have trouble understanding the world that is presented to us. It is precisely this contrast between the experience of the audience and of the character which is at the core of the film, and which will be further explored as the film continues.
Interestingly, the moment the protagonist puts on the hearing aid, the world becomes “normal” again. While he walks through his apartment and other places he often frequents, his somewhat childlike innocence as he hears the sound of wind, bells and traffic, for the first time, mirrors the sense of bewilderment we have experienced in the first minutes of the film. However, there is also the increasing notion of bringing together the object the protagonist perceives with his eyes, its weight and look, with the sound it makes. Perhaps our perception has been wrong all the time, perhaps he is just as irritated with the world of sound as we were when we were shown a world of silence.
In the end, “Mounam” is a short film questioning the notion of “disability”. Through the use of the great sound design by Adithya Shekan, R. Prem Kumar’s film challenges the way we perceive the world and how much we rely on sensory information to decipher the world around us.