Award-winning short film Frayed Lines explores the complexity of identity at the backdrop of NRC
Frayed Lines, directed by Kannada film director, Priya Belliappa, won the best short film award in the Karnataka competition section of the 10th edition of the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival (BISFF).
Tabu, an Assamese migrant worker, who has journeyed 2,000 km to work on a Coorg coffee plantation, frets that she has no documents to prove her citizenship back home. “I don’t even know the identity of my parents, where will I get a birth certificate?” she asks herself bitterly, worried that she may be forced to leave her country.
A young Kadappa, who has a PhD and comes from a poor Kodava (as people from Coorg are known) family, prefers to work on a coffee plantation plucking coffee seeds, earning Rs 700 a day rather than getting a job in the big city.
These two characters who don’t speak a common language strike up a silent ‘connection’ and set off on a journey to migrate to the city. This is the crux of the multi-layered, nuanced short film, Frayed Lines, directed by Kannada film director, Priya Belliappa that won the best short film award in the Karnataka competition section of the 10th edition of the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival (BISFF). “It was an obvious choice,” said Anand Varadaraj, festival director, who adds that the festival entries got more traction this year.
This Oscar Academy accredited film fest, held completely online for the first time, had nearly 6,500 viewers who had logged in to watch the 150 films streaming on their website. (as compared to the 1,000 registrations for their offline event last year).
In a conversation with Firstpost, Frayed Lines director, Priya Belliappa too admits that she was surprised by the ‘amazing response’ she had received from the four-day online fest as opposed to a theatre screening, which would be limited to a geographical location.
“It is also not a straight-forward narrative but still people understood the film’s premise, the silences and spaces and connected with it,” remarks the director, who made her debut in Kannada cinema with a commercial movie, Ring Road, based on a high-profile crime involving a young law student, Shubha Shankarnarayan, who was found guilty of masterminding the murder of her fiancée.
Frayed Lines, which is a slice-of-life movie, was shot in early 2019 much before the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) had become a national conversation. While researching for her film, Beliappa had met Assamese migrants who felt helpless without proper documents and she wanted to capture that ‘helplessness’.
The character of the troubled Assamese migrant worker, portrayed brilliantly by talented actress Gitanjali Thapa, reflects on her surreal situation with these words: ‘In these uncertain times of blurred and broken lines, strange is the land that you don’t belong. Stranger that I have lived within these boundaries all my life.’
According to Belliappa, her film however is not a direct comment on the ‘complex’ issue of the NRC. “I just wanted to tell the story of people who don’t have official documents for various reasons. I wanted to explore their emotional state of mind as they grapple with being suddenly told they don’t belong in their own country.”
Belliappa had stumbled upon the subject when she was exploring the coffee estates on a visit to her hometown Coorg, after she had completed her first feature film. She had built up a visual diary of people working on a coffee plantation and found enough material to make a film. The film also draws attention to the language dilemma migrant workers face in the coffee plantations, where people largely converse in Kodava takk.
The short film effectively captures the local flavor of a Coorg coffee plantation with real labourers working beside the two protagonists, which includes Kannada actor, Avinash Mudappa. For that reason, it is a ‘fiction immersed in reality’, explains Belliappa, who expects to take the story of the same couple in Frayed Lines forward when she makes her feature film.
The short film gave her the opportunity to explore the subject in all its dimensions. “Shorts give you creative freedom but unfortunately are not recognised in India like in Europe. Slowly, however that is changing with more festivals and more experimentation in the digital medium,” says Belliappa, who is comfortable in any format as long as she is wielding the camera.
Belliappa, who has a background in design and has been an art director for O&M in Sri Lanka made a career switch mid-way after enrolling herself in FTII in Pune in 2003. Incidentally, Belliappa’s diploma film, Hazy Grey Skies, which has been screened in international fests, including the Karlovy Vary, featured actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pataal Lok protagonist Jaideep Ahlawat. The film is about a monsoon-drenched day in the life of a Mumbai taxi driver, played by Siddiqui.
Belliappa is a film-maker who loves to challenge convention and age-old prejudices. She is an admirer of British comic actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her series Fleabag. “I love the way she is able to say the unpleasant without squirming. Her characters are flawed but she shows them for who they are. I want to be able to break down my prejudices and freely explore negative dimensions of a person without restraint,” says Belliappa, who is further inspired by Waller-Bridge’s brilliant writing and for breaking the glass ceiling barriers in Hollywood. She is one of the co-writers for the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die. (Waller was brought in by actor Daniel Craig to liven up the script) “Women in Hollywood too are fighting for their space in a male-dominated industry,” she points out wryly.
Back in 2015, Belliappa too defied convention in south Indian cinema and roped in an all-women crew to make her film, Ring Road. It didn’t take her long to realise that she was the only woman on set while working as an associate director in a Kannada film, I am Sorry Mathe Banni Preethisona, which went on to win state awards.
“This effort started a conversation in a male-dominated industry. Many people would drop by our set to comment on how well the crew was managing the set,” she says, adding the rider that it is however talent and hard work that matters and not gender.