‘Twenty-Five’ explores the trauma lurking in the shadows of womanhood
For many artists and creators, the past year has been the ultimate test of resilience. Living through one of the deadliest pandemics in history is perhaps not conducive to creating brilliant works of art, even if it has forced us all indoors and given many people more time to think. Some artists have flourished, whilst others have found their creative drive stifled by the weight of uncertainty and increased pressure. For Sagher A. Manchanda, a Mumbai-based director who used the last year to develop, shoot and edit the new short film Twenty-Five, the experience taught him how to persist in the face of adversity.
Twenty-Five is a twisted, Get Out-style horror story about a daughter (Bani) bringing her partner (Arjun) home to meet her mother (Beena), set against the backdrop of rural India. There is deep trauma lurking in the shadows of this family’s past, and the film plays on the traditions and expectations prevalent in many Indian families, as Beena seeks to pass on her dark secret to Bani in the form of a mysterious typewriter. Manchanda wrote the film to ‘highlight the oppression women face (or have been facing) in backward societies’, a subject he feels has become extremely important in the modern world. ‘Such stories are needed in today’s times,’ he said, ‘women’s issues are being explored and conveyed to the masses; my only intention is to add my own contribution and send out a story that can be consumed by viewers by peeling off its layers.’
The central relationship of the story, between Bani and her mother, is key to unravelling the theme of matriarchal tradition explored in the film. ‘My relationship with my mother was a huge inspiration for the story,’ said Manchanda, ‘Bani is easily my own female cinematic alter ego, and her relationship with her mother, Beena, comes from the bond that I share with my mother. Plus, my maternal grandmother used to be an excellent typist before she got married and was asked to give up her job and passion. That also acted as a major inspiration for me while devising the plot for Twenty-Five.’
There is darkness and discomfort bubbling beneath the surface of the family’s closeness, which gives the film a uniquely terrifying edge. Digging deep into a family’s hidden traumas is far scarier than conjuring ghosts and monsters, because the fear is closer to home. And when the truth behind the tradition is revealed to us in the movie’s climax, it is even more stirring because it is rooted in realism, bringing to mind the horrifying stories we have read in the news.
Making an independent film in the midst of a global pandemic came with many extra challenges. ‘I felt like I attended a masterclass in filmmaking with this project’, said Manchanda. The pandemic played its part, ‘since everybody was in different cities during the conceptualization and pre-production, which made it almost impossible for us to have collective rehearsals and meetings. We also had only four days to finish filming.’ The project required a lot of remote collaboration; its spine-tingling score was made by UK composer David Mackenzie. ‘I was lucky to be able to work with Sagher during lockdown,’ said Mackenzie, ‘it didn’t matter that we had never met in person, because we had strong rapport and were able to connect using technology, and through the work itself.’ Manchanda is grateful, he said, ‘for being blessed with a versatile, diligent and talented team. They made the project possible despite the difficulties.’
If you want to make it as an artist, you need to have passion, and it’s clear Manchanda’s passion helped him get through the challenges of making Twenty-Five. ‘I had a calling within that kept me persistent,’ he said. He is optimistic about the future of the film, which is currently being entered into festivals and prepared to distribute to a wide audience. He hopes the short will drum up interest for his next big project, ‘a feature film of the psychological thriller genre that I have been developing since 2019.’ The young director’s passion and determination is infectious, and his work will no doubt attract the attention of audiences and investors across the globe.
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