SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 30 APRIL, 2019
Indian Film At Cannes ‘Cactus’ Presents Jesus Christ as a Woman
Director Aneek Chaudhuri believes cinema is ‘pure art”
Could you have ever imagined Jesus Christ being presented as a woman in a film? No will possibly be the answer and rightly so. By the same argument that Mother Mary cannot be portrayed as a male.
But Aneek Chaudhuri who believes that cinema is pure art and is not only for entertainment, has presented Jesus Christ as a woman in his new film Cactus which has been chosen for screening at the Cannes 2019.
For Chaudhuri, direction is nothing new. He has already made two feature films and one docu-fiction called Urban Voice before taking up Cactus.
His film White was a silent film on rape where three stories of three women having been raped is portrayed with so much subtlety that without dialogue, for most of us conditioned to hearing it, may not understand what is going on unless one watches it for a second time at least. It does not follow a linear narrative which is Chaudhuri’s usual style so the lack of dialogue makes it more difficult.
About White, the director says, “In White, each tale has only one protagonist who is fighting back silently. I stress more on deadpan cinema in portraying situations than stressing on conventional emotions. A rape victim is devoid of consistent feelings or fears to depict spontaneous emotions even to herself. White employs a very logical method of narration where sewing is meant for the expected baby (conceived of rape). This involves much more detailing and evokes more emotions. In this film, anger has been overpowered by a sense of motherhood; the protagonists indulge in normal activities in order to provide the child a normal life.”
The Wife’s Letter is an intriguing blend of Salvador Dali’s artform and Rabindranath Tagore’s short story Streer Patro, which has generated a lot of feminist literature in its wake and is an incisive comment on patriarchy. But the film reads differently. Here, the protagonist named X is the personified variable in Mathematics who is suffering from schizophrenia and hence, his personality is not constant and varies.
The Wife's letter and White were screened at Cannes in 2017 and 2018 respectively and White was nominated for numerous awards worldwide, also winning a few.
If these stories sound quite niche, it is because they are niche and may not be easily understood by most viewers including yours truly. But his latest film Cactus is truly a very radical and bold step in taking up Christianity in general and Jesus Christ in particular to make a gender-bender film converting Jesus Christ into a female.
On his inspiration for this extremely sensitive and radical idea, Chaudhuri says, “Cactus was perceived on observing radical changes taking place in the shadow of religion. I thought no one but Mother Mary could be depicted as the ambassador of peace. Besides, eastern traditions have been questioned numerous times; now, it is the turn to show a mirror to the West as well.”
A female has been portrayed as Jesus Christ and it is played by Aparajita Dey.
On casting a female actor in the role of Jesus Christ, the director further adds, “I cannot think of any male as the epitome of Christ, as depicted in Bible. The sensitivity, or the endurance, I strongly feel only a woman has such characteristics.”
The title of this film derives from alternative perspectives on life. Aneek adds, “well, when we hear the word ‘Cactus’, the first characteristic that defines it are the thorns; however, the stem is a watery part of the plant but people fail to relate to it. I wanted to show an alternative reality to life. That's why it is named Cactus.” Anurupa Chakraborty and Aishani De play Mother Mary in two different eras, the child Mary and the adult Mary.
“Through this film, I am trying to personify God and create a bridge between humans and Gods that is narrowed further. Moreover, this is a reflection of the Western world’s habit of spot blemishes in our traditions through time,” he adds. Asked why he often chooses silence with a background musical score but no dialogue as he has done in White and in Cactus, his response is, “I have chosen a silent genre and no verbal language has been used as am working hard to revive silent cinema and incorporate it into today’s Cinema scenario. I believe words disrupt everything.”
His method of casting actors for his film is very unconventional and may even sound quite funny to most of us. “I tend to cast actors by doing a deep analysis of their noses, and then try to imagine the nose putting it in a dark context. Then, I paint it on a notebook, trying to give a human shape to it. I chose Anurupa Chakraborty for the older version of Mary who is a phenomenal actor; there is a 12-year-old version when Mary is pregnant and this is a different actor. I use this strategy because I feel this helps to draw than to film. I try to paint with the camera and try to install motion arts on screen,” he informs.
Aneek Chaudhuri is also up for a backlash, if any; because, according to him, “a filmmaker has some responsibilities other than entertaining audiences. I am representing the eastern world, globally through this film.” The music is mesmerizing and magical.
Cactus has not been censored yet by the CBFC in India. The reason is apparent. Had the CBFC asked for cuts or for banning, because of the subject and also for its depiction of semi-clothed women who are seen relaxing in sensuous postures for the camera, Cannes may not have happened. But make no mistake. Prizes or no prizes, Cactus will raise heated debate all around.