Film #12: Smell

aka: गंध
director: Sachin Kunkaldar
language: Marathi
watched on: 22 May

Three short films, really, rather than one narrative, set in the Maharashtra region of India (near Mumbai), I think this film is kinda meant to be a sort of showcase of Marathi cinema and how it’s not Bollywood. The director was very eager to proclaim that he was influenced by Almodóvar and other famous arthousey European directors, and included a segment from All About My Mother midway through the movie. I didn’t like that, because I don’t really like being told by a director what I’m supposed to think of a film, which is what such directorial dedications ultimately do. But then, at least he was upfront about it.

The shorts, as per the title, were themed around smell. Already, that’s going to be difficult to pull off, although I’ll cut to the chase and say that I think the director did fairly well at this. But smell is not evocative in film; this is a simple fact. So while I can still remember what the third story was about (menstruation and how taboo it is in India), I can’t remember how this related to smell, or what smell they were trying to evoke… because you just can’t evoke a smell on a film.

But at the same time, this became a useful device in the first two stories, wherein the female character of each keeps smelling a smell – good in the first story, which was about a male love interest works in an incense factory to make ends meet, and is an incredibly cheesy love story – decidedly bad in the second story, about a broken marriage and a man with HIV who loses his sense of smell and can’t detect a dead rat, not until his wife comes to collect her things. In each, the smell was a useful way of keeping something mysterious from the audience until the big reveal shortly before the end.

It didn’t, as I say, work quite as well in the 3rd story, because I don’t remember what smell was important to the story; all I remember is that a menstruating woman has to teach her son/nephew in a very lying-to-children way why she has to stay in a different room and not be touched once a month. It’s possibly something to do with the smell of cooking.

Either way, it wasn’t evocative enough for the smell aspect of that story to make a lasting impression on me, but I was impressed by the cinematography. As with just about any film one will see coming out of India, it’s very colourful, but manages to do this without it being cheesy in a Bollywood style. And for that, I guess it can only be commended! But in future, I’d probably prefer to see a feature length film – while three shorts has the advantage that you don’t get as bored, and the advantage that the stories are developed very quickly without wasting time twiddling your thumbs waiting for something to happen, it also has the disadvantage of not staying with any characters for long enough to develop them properly…

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