By Ashley Maniw (April 17th, 2018)
Directed by: Manas Shashidharan Jacob
Written by: Abhijit Kachhap
Produced by: Juhi Hegde, Shashidharan Jacob, Mary Jacob
Key Cast: Sudeepta Singh, Uday Chandra
We’ve all kept secrets. We’ve all let fear cloud our judgement and our instincts. We can try to deny it or hide it from everyone, but the anguish and anxiety will always rise to the surface and bubble over. It’s only by being honest that we can release our burdens and feel lighter. This cliché is a cliché for a reason: the truth really does set you free.
Exploring this all-too human conundrum is the core of Seher. Directed by Manas Shashidharan Jacob, this short shows how fear can lead us to dark and desperate places while also reminding us that sharing our burdens helps us make connections that bring hope, freedom and the comfort that comes with knowing we’re not totally alone.
The film opens with a young woman, Rubina, walking alone down an alleyway in the middle of the night. The cramped space, the cover of night, the unnerving silence and the bundle of bags she’s clutching allude to the burden that Rubina is carrying. Usmaan, a friendly and elderly cab driver, sees her alone and offers a ride. Her hesitation and fear indicate that she’s wary of strangers. Nevertheless, she accepts and we’re off on their journey.
In this film, what’s left unsaid is its greatest strength. Jacob has a confident handle on his story and he’s able to tell it without relying on endless exposition. We never find out what exactly has happened to Rubina, but there’s enough hinted at that we get an idea - like when a group of motorcyclists intimidate her by revving their engine and flashing the headlights in her face to get a better look at her. It’s just a moment, but it tells a lot – that perhaps Rubina has been in these situations before, that maybe something worse than harassment has happened to her.
Jacob also effectively uses his locations to build tension and reflect the inner world of his characters. Usmaan’s taxi highlights the connection and gulf between the two leads. When you don’t know Usmaan’s motives, the cab seems too cramped, too close. When men on motorbikes harass her, the cab seems even more restrictive. Usmaan diffuses this situation – Rubina calls him “father” to alert him to the potentially dangerous situation she’s in – and their relationship gradually begins to thaw, making the cab feel like a sanctuary. Alternatively, when the communication between them breaks down, the cab becomes a chasm – Rubina viewed by Usmaan in the rear-view mirror seems miles away from him.
With wider shots outside of the cab, Jacob shows how desolate and quiet a busy city like Mumbai can seem in the middle of the night. Tight close ups via a tray of tea is cleverly used to also show how cities can also be claustrophobic – too messy, too noisy and too crowded. And as the movie ends at dawn, the city seems more open, more hopeful.
While the story does hit some familiar beats, the assured direction by Jacob and solid performances by his lead actors make it resonate. Seher is a story about the depth of human connection; how a few reassuring words and an act of kindness can open our eyes to the ambiguity and complexities of life – and the hope that it can be better than it is during our darkest nights.
- Ashley Maniw