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Fahadh Faasil’s latest movie C U Soon, also starring Roshan Mathews and Darshana Rajendran, is an edge of the seat thriller with a very human soul, that also does not resort to voyeurism for its thrills.
Other than the way it touches you, unlike most thrillers, Fahadh Faasil’s C U Soon has something important to say about abuse and violence, without resorting to the sort of ‘voyeuristic’ tendencies that many other film makers claim are necessary to show things ‘realistically.’ It has also been made during COVID times, completely keeping to Kerala’s rather strict lockdown rules.
As someone with Malayali roots, I must admit that I experience a bit of pride when Fahadh Faasil is acknowledged as one of India’s most brilliant actors. Indeed, he is an incredibly versatile performer, with the ability to pull off even some ‘problematic’ characters on screen, while keeping them human, and resisting the urge to glorify them.
In C U Soon, he plays a similarly complex character. However, he is not the only reason worth watching this movie for. C U Soon has a lot to offer.
Even before the film begins, it makes you sit up and take notice. The first thing one sees is a black screen, with text in Malayalam and English that reads, “Humankind is engaged in a strong battle against Covid all over the world now. This feature film was shot adhering to all safety protocols imposed by the Government of Kerala, during this lockdown period. While the lockdown pushed Malayalam cinema to a standstill, this film helped provide wages to a bunch of workers whose only source of income is cinema.”
To make a film in lockdown certainly requires a lot of creativity and innovation. Mahesh Narayanan, the director, and Fahadh Faasil, who is has not only acted in the movie, but who also is the producer, have certainly risen to the challenge, by bringing us a movie that we see entirely through one screen or the other – phone screens, laptop screens, CCTV footage. The film was shot entirely with an iPhone, in Kochi, during May and July 2020. For more on the technical side, this interview with Mahesh Narayanan is a good read.
There have been movies like this before – for instance The Collingswood Story, Unfriended, and Searching, but it is still a new concept for Indian cinema.
Jimmy (Roshan Mathews) is a bank employee in Dubai. Browsing through Tinder, he matches with Anumol Sebastian (Darshana Rajendran). Within a few minutes, they’ve moved from chatting on Tinder, to chatting on Google Hangouts. Within a few minutes of that, Jimmy has sent her photos of him with his mom, and has already asked her if they can have a video call. “Ee chettan kooduthal fast aanallo,” (This guy is way too fast), I commented to my husband, even as Anumol had the same complaint on screen.
Eventually though, their relationship progresses at the same astonishing speed, even though she does not have a mobile phone with a SIM card, owing to ‘family problems’. They move from chatting to video calling, and Jimmy proposing marriage to her, on a video call that his mom and cousin are also on, even before he has met her in person, all within a week!
Can anyone in real life actually be so naïve? Thankfully, Jimmy’s mom has more sense than him, and she asks his cousin, Kevin (Fahadh Faasil) who is a cyber security expert, to find out if Anu is genuine. Kevin is a misogynistic jackass (who, among other things, calls his female boss/partner a ‘bitch’ during an office meeting, blocks her messages, and then conveniently ‘apologizes’ when he needs her help,) but he is a lot more rational than Jimmy. He does a check and says that Anu is genuine.
Jimmy then gets a call from a tearful Anu, who is bleeding from a huge cut in her face. The story she tells him is that she is being abused by her father, who does not approve of their relationship. She asks Jimmy to take her away, and they live together for a few days. One day, Jimmy spots her father and talks to him, despite Anu begging him not to.
On the same day, she suddenly stops replying to his messages, and disappears, leaving a cryptic video message that suggests that she might have tried to kill herself.
When Jimmy is taken away forcibly by the police, Kevin must race to find out the truth – Where is Anu? Is she really who she says she is? Why did she get involved with Jimmy?
The resolution to all these questions arrives in an incredibly moving way, and I realized that the movie was a lot more nuanced and deep than I expected it to be. At a pivotal moment, as a tear rolled down Kevin’s eye on screen, I was crying myself.
I cannot say more about the plot without giving away major spoilers (and trust me this movie HAS to be seen without any spoilers), but it has important things to say about abuse, violence, privilege, and exploitation. What you end up learning leaves you with many questions – not just about the characters, but also about the real life parallels.
What impressed me most though, is that the movie made its point, without showing us the violence and abuse on screen. In doing so, it kept the focus on the survivor – her story, her emotions, her triumph. This ensures an avoidance of accidental (or intentional) glorification or empathizing with the abuser and instead leads us to empathize with the survivor deeply.
Abuse can be spoken about realistically, without having to show it on screen.
Rape scenes have always been a part of Bollywood, and they have been criticized by feminists. Recently though there is a trend, even among ‘feminist’ and ‘progressive’ films to show rape, violence and abuse on screen, under the garb of ‘realism.’
However, these scenes tend to be incredibly triggering not just to survivors, but even to casual watchers. Being an empath, after watching Bulbbul, for instance, I had an actual physical ache in my ankles for a few days – I don’t expect anyone to understand that, but it did affect me badly.
And let’s please acknowledge that these scenes, thought as being ‘necessary to help us empathize with the victim,’ actually end up exciting and titillating some men.
And if the only way we can empathize with a survivor is after seeing them being raped/beaten/abused – then shame on us, because it says a lot about how insensitive and numb we have become Paatal Lok to violence.
As Hema G puts it, concisely and sarcastically, “Best part about getting women and girls beaten, raped, beaten and raped, violated, mutilated, subject to paedophilia in film is you can pander to the voyeuristic male gaze while simultaneously making it a feminist film. It’s a win-win.”
I have called out this tendency in a number of movies and series earlier, including, but not limited to, Mardaani 2, Paatal Lok and Bulbbul.
To quote from Revolucinema’s Facebook post about (but the point applies to any movie/series which insists on including violent content in the name of realism), “Graphic recreation of trauma and atrocity in cinema is a process of dehumanisation of the audience. On the outset it is an assault upon survivors who have undergone abuse and violence.”
We absolutely must make films and tell stories about gender based violence, rape etc. However, these stories must be told with much more empathy and sensitivity.
It is a good thing then that we have films like C U Soon (and Delhi Crime and Listen To Her) that buck this trend.
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