A healing trip to the cinema
On the day I went out to the theatre alone, and found a way out of a mental maze.
This is a collaborative piece.
Words: Shubhangani Jain
Doodle: Bhavika Govil
I re-watched A Death in the Gunj a few days ago. My heart thumped every time a sensitive Shutu was neglected or infantilized by his family members. It thumped faster when Shutu, tired of being invisible, dies.
“What must he have gone through?” a friend watching the film with me asks. I want to say I know, but that would put me into Shutu’s mind, and that would mean navigating it, and laying both, Shutu and me, bare for my friend. I can’t.
My heart remains shut for a few days after that.
I grew up a shy, bullied kid. My parents were too protective, still are, to let me go out alone. Playgrounds and social exchanges were just not my thing. Consequently, I would go late to a meeting with friends just so I didn’t have to wait alone.
Years and years of this meant a building up of a hollow in the stomach, not wanting to pick my body up from where it lay, being hard on myself for not being happy or productive. I’d do things because things have to be done.
Are you familiar with the maze of this state? The realization of it lurking up your spine, almost becoming a defining characteristic (it isn’t). A couple years ago, I’d stagger doing things; I looked forward to long periods of rest with zero or minimal human interaction. Talking would mean a break into crying, being unable to explain my state, and unwilling to be on the receiving end of sympathetic stares. Could I just go through it all by myself?
A series of (unreliable?) online tests, and a self-diagnosis of depression later, there I was, naming my state — possibly taming it too.
Life before and while watching A Death in the Gunj felt like I was navigating a maze with no ending; and when I carved out a little pathway to navigate it better, it was, again, through films.
In 2016, as I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, I found Anarkali of Aarah and Phillauri trending. I’d missed out on both films. Just the prospect of going to the theatre alone exhausted me, so I put my phone down.
But I’ve always loved the movies, I reminded myself. My eyes would go dreamy, as another dream revealed itself on the big screen.
My friends had talked about both — Phillauri surprised with its ending they said, and added how Anarkali of Aarah is feminist.
Two days later, playing hooky from college and without telling my mother, I found myself at the theatre alone. The first show was Anarkali — an early morning screening to which I’d reached 15 minutes late. The new theatre was in a posh part of the city, and I’d taken my time to find it.
“Ek ticket Anarkali of Aarah ka,” I said.
“ Bas ek?” She asked, looking behind me for my movie partner.
Soon after the film, with a bad burger in my mouth, I texted my friend: “Anarkali of Aarah was feminist.” On my way out, looking out for road signs, my eyes fell upon a giant poster for Phillauri instead. I headed straight back to the theatre and asked for another ticket.
It was the same lady at the ticket counter. She asked me if I still don’t have anyone to accompany me.
“Dost ko laana tha na,” she said, feeling bad. I smiled, nodded, and headed to the show.
As I headed back home, itching to write about it for myself, my impulse was to pass the day off as mundane. Is it really that big a deal that I watched two films alone, I thought.
But here I am, remembering the day as a break in pattern. It was a chink in the wall of nothingness and incompetence that I attached fiercely to my body.
It was like a meeting with myself, where the only sounds were of the worlds on screen, a world in which I didn’t feel compelled to ask someone if they are okay hanging out with me.
As I finished writing, my heart assumed its normal thumping. I thought of Shutu and that one moment of freedom he had in taking out his brother’s bike out. I thought of his smile. I think of myself and my little moments of freedom in taking myself for a movie alone that day, and from the many mazes in my head.
Shubhangani has just finished her Master's in Gender Studies and is now looking for places to trade her knowledge with. She is a pop culture and panipuri enthusiast who doesn't like bios in third person. Like this one.