Suraj Vilas Dalvi from India has directed the short film “Underline”; he has also curated the script, story and dialogue of this moral tale, focused on a teenage girl.
Pooja is a typical teenage girl doing what typical teenage girls do; she meets her girlfriends for a snack or a walk in the park, texts, snaps selfies with friends and chats on the mobile phone all the time. At home, her family looks like a very traditional one: strict Dad, Mum in the kitchen preparing meals and washing dishes and an older brother who is depicted as laborious and collaborative with Dad. On the contrary, Pooja is not polite when talking with her brother, doesn’t help Mum in the kitchen, doesn’t want to wear a sari and, worst of all, sometimes wears her brother’s T-shirts without asking permission. She is also furtively meeting a good-looking boy every now and then, for an ice cream or a scooter ride. When he crosses the line she very sensibly runs away, but unfortunately someone has seen her and will report to Dad. Big troubles ahead!
Technically the film is adequate, there are very few dialogues apart from the big sermon delivered by Dad at the end, and a soothing music accompanies the scenes of Pooja’s life. However, it could do with a bit more “spice” injected in, a change of music for example, to underline (pun intended) the different moments and moods of the story; joy, boredom, naughtiness, drama. Also, a snappier editing could help making it more engaging.
But, in my opinion, the real problem with the film is its unclear message. Although I sincerely would like to be wrong here, my impression is that the author’s conclusions are that Pooja, after all her “terrible” misbehavior finally accepts and understands what her place is; that being in the kitchen, cleaning and preparing with pride a perfectly round chapati.
If this is the case, the film doesn’t really say anything new other that reiterating the old-fashion, repressive “status quo” so I don’t really understand where the director wants to go with it. Regardless what anyone can think of this concept (and I must stress that I firmly disagree) the (male) author performing the supreme act of judging and “underlining” what is good and what is right for the girl is arrogant and pretentious to say the least. Moreover, he seems to ignore the girl’s point of view, relegating her to a mere trope. Pooja is actually a very considerate girl who makes a sensible moral choice in the film and reveals she has her own brain and ethic, despite the males of the family underlining (!!) the contrary.
I might be wrong obviously, as the film is not very assertive and clear about where it stands and what it wants to underline until the very end, when Pooja’s smile and compliant behaviour speak unequivocally. If my reading is wrong and the film instead was intended to be an outcry against a conservative establishment, then the author should work hard on improving his storytelling skills in order to avoid misunderstandings.