Harming oneself to end one’s own life could be either seen as an ultimate manifestation of hopelessness or a path to ultimate liberation. Either way, going through such a process or even attempting it could be extremely traumatic. Gantumoote, written and directed by Roopa Rao, is not actually about the issue of suicidal tendencies that people harbor within themselves, even if the protagonist does go through the suicide of a boy she loves and contemplates ending her own life, after his death. It is about a young lonely, freethinking girl freshly graduated from college as she reflects on her tragic school life and musters an uneasy peace with the confused baggage that she has been carrying since then. In fact, Gantumoote in Kannada can loosely be translated as baggage.
It takes great courage to tell a story of an attempted suicide and the events that led to it. It also takes a lot of courage to shun the over empowering dramatic narrative format that encompasses almost every other movie we experience. One definition of dramatic narrative writing is this – A plot that is centered on a conflict between a protagonist and an antagonist that escalates continuously until it reaches a point of climax, and resolution. So, keeping this in mind, what then is the plot in Gantumoote? I suppose that at one level, the film has the young girl trek up the hills to ponder about her past and to come to terms with it in the only way that she can. In that sense, there is no external antagonist here.
There is also the plot of the life of her past – it includes her life as a young child, her teenage life during the last year of school and finally, a little bit of her college life. There is an antagonist in the first part, where as a small child, she is molested in a cinema hall by a person whose face is never seen and who never comes back onto the screen, except in the mind of the girl. There are two parts to her life in her last year of school. In the first part, among other things, there is a definite antagonist – the jilted boy who calls the girl as a prostitute. He is beaten lock, stock and barrel when the protagonist wins an elocution competition. That is the end of this antagonist, we never see him again. A dramatic narrative format would have seen him come back after this defeat, all the way to the climax. In the second part of her teenage school life, which extends up to the time when her lover fails in the supplementary exams, the antagonist – so to say – is the lover himself. He simply does not love her enough to not take his life and be with and for her. And finally in the third part, after the boy’s suicide, the protagonist battles her own inner demons. So, the narrative in this movie are a series of events happening at different points in time, which might or might not have been heavily interdependent on each other in the manner conventionally seen in the dramatic narrative form.
I did mention the word ‘time’. A film can be experienced by the way it navigates itself in its temporal aspects. The possible world view of the movie could be laid transparent if one were to figure out the contours of this navigation. Two of the three time zones depicted in the movie – that of the protagonist’s mid-school childhood and the duration of the final year of her high school and extending a bit beyond – are both in the past. The third, which is her post college era. is the present. This is what is called the ‘story time’, of the movie – a time spanning from early childhood to early post college.
A ‘plot time’ of a movie is the time depicted in the plot of the movie extracted from this ‘story time’- i.e. in what exactly is happening and is being depicted on the screen. Out of the three time zones depicted in the ‘story time’, it could be fruitful to know as to how much ‘screen time’ is given in the movie to each of these time zones. The ‘screen time’ is the amount of time the movie runs on the screen. In that respect, Gantumoote has a total of close to two hours of ‘screen time’.
The protagonist’s mid-school events are given roughly about ten minutes of screen time; and considering its significance to the plot, it comes prominently upfront in the film. But since the events in this time zone do not constitute the theme of the movie but are a strong foundation upon which it is based on, it is given only that much ‘screen time’.
The first part of the second time zone deals with the girls’ infatuation with film stars, her attraction to her boyfriend and her ‘triumph’ against the other suitor whom she has rejected. This part takes the form of a ‘love story’ and as if to proving allegiance to this genre, it takes a whopping nearly one hour or roughly half the film’s ‘screen time’.
The second part of this second time zone hovers around the board examination that the protagonist and her boyfriend give. It is in this part that the protagonist sees the boy fail in his exams, loose his self esteem and despite her efforts, kill himself – making her wonder whether he ever loved her enough at all to have left her all alone in such a manner. Their love story fails and how. This part has about forty five minutes of the movie’s ‘screen time’.
And finally, the third time zone depicted in this movie, which circles around the college examination, is just about ten minutes in length. This is where the transformation of the character takes place wherein lies the crux of the movie. So, in simple words, about three-forth of the ‘screen time’ of Gantumooute is devoted to a love story that was beautiful while it lasted but was cruel when it went wrong. The priorities can be therefore be presumed to be the narration of a nostalgic story about love and its failure.
The transformation or the ‘coming of age’ of the protagonist, as mentioned, is just about ten minutes. We don’t know anything more about this transformation because there is less ‘plot time’ given to this aspect except for the fact that it is linked to the first ten minutes of the movie to the protagonist’s experience in the cinema hall. It occurs to me that it could have been an empowering process to see how this transformation has taken shape in detail but clearly, this is not the intention of the movie. The memories of a failure can be overbearing, at times.
What exactly is this ‘growing up’ happening in the last time zone? Due to the intrinsic nature of her personality, the protagonist decides not to end her life over the existential crisis that she is facing. And significantly, she decides to find solace and live with the confusion that she has been in. The first person narration, which has been overbearingly used throughout the narrative, to ostensibly generate empathy (the other micro level tool used to achieve this end is the equally overbearing music that threatens to obscure the otherwise effective sound design) makes it absolutely clear about the nature of this transformation – that the burden of the failed love story gives her a perplexed state of mind that encompasses the confused burden that she promises to carry throughout her life and beyond. She probably eulogizes that state to find solace in it as the rather overenthusiastic subtitles say with ‘grace’.
But finding solace and grace by romanticizing the pain inflected by acts of self harm and suicide? In my personal opinion, this can be as disturbing as the act of ending one’s life itself or seeing it happen in front of you.
Kannada, Drama, Color