Soul of Sand (Sidharth Srinivasan, 2010): India

Reviewed by Stacie Manifold.  Viewed at Metro 4 Theatre at the Santa Barbara Film Festival 2011.

Soul of Sand screened at this year’s film festival as part of the International Features genre.  It is a film made in India but is a far cry from the Bollywood features we have seen recently with song and dance.  Quite the opposite, this film focuses on a handful of characters living mundane lives almost in poverty and there is no happy ending.

The film is written, directed and produced by Sidharth Srinivasan, an independent filmmaker based in New Delhi/Mumbai.  His first film was a short made in 2000 called The Tightrope Walker. Srinivasan aims to make movies that are a little off the beaten path and draws his inspiration from work such as Chris Marker’s legendary film “La Jetee” a sci-fi film comprised entirely of still images with voice-over narration.  In fact the second film Srinivasan made in 2001, one of India’s first digital feature films called DIVYA DRISHTI, was banned by the censor board owing to profanity and street lingo as well as the casual depiction of a love affair between two married men.  At that time, the censors said that homosexuality was against Indian culture.

The story of Soul of Sand revolves around Bhanu Kumar (played by Dibyendu Bhattacharya) and his wife Saroj Kumar (Saba Joshi) who live at a deserted mineral mine that Bhanu watches over as a guard.  Various characters enter and exit their lives including a mysterious man who rides a motorcycle, carries a rifle and always keeps his face cloaked.

When first watching the film, a few things jumped out at me that seemed to affect the movie in a negative way.  First of all in any scene where someone happened to be killed, their murder was quite violent and gratuitous.  For instance, an ax is lodged into a man’s neck and blood is squirting out the side of his neck in a three foot stream.  These scenes were reminescent of comic book murders done in real life.

There was also the masked man.  Any time he appeared on screen, menacing music would play.  He also kept his face covered except one time when it was revealed to an on-screen character but not the audience.  You got the impression that his face was badly burned and scarred.  His character portrayal reminded me of Darth Vader from Star Wars.  Darth Vader’s face is mutilated, he always keeps his mask on and whenever he enters a scene that well-known soundtrack plays.

I question the directors use of the cheesy horror-film style killings and Darth Vader spoof.  The movie was otherwise serious and could have had a deep meaning that moved you.  I wonder if the director felt the subject matter was so dark and heavy that comic relief was needed in this fashion.  Although not one of my favorites seen at the festival, the film has it’s place in cinema and it’s nice to see a movie of this genera come out of India.

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