Broadly speaking there are, perhaps, two types of cinema/films. The first variety, also the dominant one, is a kind of cinema which follows a basically linear, plot driven mode of storytelling where the viewer is immersed as a passive spectator and his/her thoughts are manipulated through suggestions which play on emotions. The other variety, the rarer one, is a cinema which turns the spectator into an observer, arouses his/her capacity to think and act by putting in arguments through a narrative structure which makes him/her ‘work’ in order to understand the discourse of the film. While the first kind of cinema is conformist, the second type of filmmaking is one of adventure, not only for the filmmaker but also for those spectators, who are willing to participate. Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune alumnus and indie filmmaker Ramachandra PN’s latest film, Bunnu K. Endo Maye (The Maya Of Bunnu K. Endo) definitely belongs to the latter category. It is a film that examines the workings and the effects of globalised ‘corporatocracy’ that has become the predominant social, political and economic paradigm in the last four decades or so.
The film opens with a beautiful shot of a mountain situated in the Karkala Range of India’s Western Ghats mountain range – a region rich in exploitable resources and like most such areas around the world, home to a diversified and fragile ecosystem. A TV announcement like voice-over then proclaims that five mountains have recently ‘disappeared’. With this absurdity as its base, the film shifts its attention to a runway couple – the wife of a MLA from the region and her chauffeur – who are offered refuge in an empty flat in an unnamed city. This is courtesy an unnamed support group, which the film alludes to as the symbol of the almighty global trans-national corporate driven oligarchy.
As the film unfolds, the empty flat becomes a cage of entrapment and the couple becomes ‘Exhibits Nos. 1 & 2’, who epitomise being willing collaborators yet also the confused and hapless victims of ‘corporatocracy’ – playing the ruthless great game of grabbing for power and natural resources via manipulation of individuals and the community as a whole. In what can be only be described as a storytelling masterstroke, the two central characters not only play themselves, but are also forced to act out other characters and their past lives albeit commanded by messages from the CEO of an unnamed corporate entity, Bunnu K. Endo, with aid from an international project consultant, Alice Chabrol (a backhanded tribute to the French director Claude Chabrol?). These orders from the very top are conveyed through flash drives in scenes that mimic science-fiction films albeit at its minimalist and low-cost best.
In a crucial scene of the film, which tells the backstory of a resource grab, the two protagonists go back in time by metaphorically wearing the clothes of their past lives as commanded by Bunnu K. Endo. The actor hitherto playing the role of the chauffeur becomes the MLA and the empty space of the big city apartment is converted village house of the MLA where the actors mime a scene where the MLA’s dutiful wife serves him lunch while the two discuss how to convince the Chief Minister of the state to participate in the resource grabbing machinations of Bunnu K. Endo, Alice Chabrol and company by offering the wife as a sexual enticement to the old man. The transformation of the apartment is achieved not through changes in the set décor but by a sudden change in the soundtrack – instead of the constant war like humming of the urban soundscape that is overriding in other scenes, the audio now comprises of typical village sounds – birds cooing and a goat whining! In fact, the audio track is critical to the film’s overall design and narrative. Harsh and amplified sync sounds together with the all-pervasive warlike droning of big city sounds, Hindu prayer chants and at two key moments the call to prayers from a mosque often illustrate and comment on the predicament and tragedy of the two central characters caught in a dystopian nightmare.
Apart from the two protagonists, there is another key character in the film – one who is not seen on screen, but is an omniscient and omnipresent observer of the ‘experiment’ being conducted at the behest of the corporate powers. This character is Krish Mallya, the henchman who reports ‘every move’ and ‘every step’ the runaway couple make – taken by surveillance camera – to his corporate paymasters. Mallya’s video reports break the flow of the film’s story and act as ‘explainers’ to the motive and means of execution of the ‘corporatocracy’ and hence they assume crucial role in understanding the overarching enquiry of the film – the sublime yet all-controlling machinations of corporate power especially in developing nations.
Bunnu K. Endo Maye, at the end, is an allegory of the neo-liberalism empowered game of resource grabbing for the profit and empowerment of the corporate elite – a game in which all sectors of the society become pawns in the hands of the corporate masters. Through its unconventional storytelling structure, which is a throwback on the Brecht-Godard mode with its Bunuelesque take on the real and the dystopian illusory, the film is an attempt to understand and depict the modern myth of neo-liberal paradigm under which even as the final title card of the film proclaims in the words of the economist John Maynard Keynes, “In the long run we are all dead.”, the game continues as five more hills disappear and new sets of ‘exhibits’ are enticed and entrapped.
As far as cinematic technique is concerned Bunnu K. Endo Maye is a lesson in minimalist low/no budget, indie filmmaking. Solanki Chakraborty’s camerawork explores all possible angles that are perhaps available in an empty apartment while expertly using the available light and colour tones. The long shots of the cityscape taken from the cage of the empty apartment capture the ‘development’, which is ensured by resource grabbing under the carpet while they also portray the freedom missed by the two protagonists. Sudipto Mukhopadhyay records the sync sound and the dialogues with great clarity providing the base for further amplification and manipulation at the post-production stage. Chitrra Jetliy and Vinnay Vishwaa put in power-packed performances that mix the best of cinematic acting along with some elements of theatricality, which the film demands. The film is enriched by its crisp dialogue which is witty and at the same time poignant and at sometimes also polemical.
The complex and fragmented structure of Bunnu K. Endo Maye makes it a difficult film to watch for audiences habituated either to the mishmash of Bharata’s Natyshastra as presented in popular Indian cinema or the cause-effect linearity of Hollywood films or both. But for viewers who are willing to engage with the premise or who are familiar with the idea that cinema can be ‘non-realistic’ and can be a tool for telling complex stories about social, political and economic issues, Bunnu K. Endo Maye is a fulfilling watch. Director Ramchandra PN deserves kudos for going ‘truly independent’, both in terms of content and form, in his attempt to explain the workings of ‘corporatocracy’ with all its illusions and depredations.
Kannada, Hindi, Color