Revisiting Avinash Arun’s Killa: A meditative film on the growing pains of childhood with immersive visual imagery
As part of a special column Rewind to Unwind, I take up Avinash Arun's Killa to assess the theme of isolation and decode how it can be a gateway to growing up and finding one’s solitude.
What makes a classic? How does a much-talked-about film or TV show of its time go on to attain cult status? In our new column, Rewind to Unwind, we break down classics to see how they stand in 2020 and how they have aged (if at all).
Avinash Arun’s National Award-winning feature Killa is throbbing with universal themes. The film deals with the initiation of a new world - adolescence, and the difficult possibilities that come along with it: such as, the unfamiliarity, the fear of being left out, the curious companionship of acquaintances. I was first introduced to the film during my academic years. I was new to the city of Mumbai then, living away from my family and trying to make on my own much like the protagonist of the film.
The film sets out to explore the themes of grief, isolation, forgiveness, anxiety brought by geographical displacement through the mind of a 10-year-old boy. I could relate to the film when I watched it years back, I knew why Chinmay had trouble making friends, and how his introverted self always got better of him. I sympathised, because I had gone through something similar. I could understand his outbursts, his frustration and his reclusiveness. Not much has changed over the years, I am still introvert but I have learnt to handle my emotions in a much better way. I have grown to understand that sometimes isolation can be a gateway to find better answers.
Killa unfolds at the onset of monsoon in one of the most picturesque towns of the Konkan coast. In Avinash Arun's Marathi film, nature mirrors the emotions of a 10-year old boy we all know, a boy some of us may have been.
Complete with an emerald, blue colour palette, Killa feels like a meditative piece on childhood, displacement, grief and the very notions of friendship. The coming-of-age film follows Chinmay (Archit Devadhar) and his journey into boyhood after he has moved with his mother (Amruta Subhash) from Pune to a small coastal town in the Konkan region. Chinmay, who lost his father the previous year, is a well-behaved, sensitive boy, but is overwhelmed with feelings of isolation as he struggles to adjust to his new surroundings.
He is a diligent student, a scholarship kid, with a keen interest in mathematics. But the new school appears to be populated with unruly local kids with whom he has little in common. A simple kid, with his hair, parted straight as if with a ruler and shirt firmly tucked in, Chinmay doesn’t say much, agrees often and the very thought of new beginnings upsets him. He isn’t sure if he wants to be friends with these unruly, egg-headed small-town boys — but he desperately needs friends. As we all do, especially at a time when we seek to discover and find our own voices through them.
Chinmay is soon welcomed into a group of the eccentric bunch — loud, jovial Bandya; wealthy, uptight Yuvraj (Gaurish Gawade); testy Omkar (Atharva Upasni). However, these differences also pave a new path to Chinmay’s isolation, which comes alive through quiet, contemplative scenes.
The film often tends to evoke a melancholic ache through its visual imagery and with the pressing use of metaphors. Nature is a driving force in the film. Every frame is acutely directed to create a sense of intimacy, to let viewers immerse and become one with the elements of nature. It never just rains, but it cascades down. Waves crash and splatter. The atmospherics become gloomier and denser, as Chinmay loses his calm, becomes recluse. The lush green landscape and swelling sea soon turn into a hideaway for the young boy and his conflicting feelings.
One of the most reflective scenes built around the backdrop of nature comes alive when the boys plan a cycle race to the old fort. After beating the highly competitive Yuvraj, Chinmay wanders off to explore the fort while the rest of bunch is busy fooling around. Chinmay keeps looking at them, unmoved, trying to understand this cacophony of unfamiliarity. However, it soon begins to rain incessantly, and he is forced to take shelter. When he emerges, Chinmay screams out their names, almost unheard due to the strong winds, only to realise they have left without him. This betrayal seems to unlock the sadness and rage in this hitherto docile boy—he rebels, accuses his mother of uprooting his life, and shells back into his cocoon.
Unbeknownst to Chinmay, his mother is grappling with battles of her own. She is struggling hard to fit in her new ‘sarkari’ office, coping with the politics of local bureaucracy.
Aruna is vulnerable, her quiet grief has cast a permanent shadow on her face and yet she showcases immense strength. Far from her family, she has no support while mourning her late husband and worrying about her son. During a lighthouse tour, the mother-son share a profound moment, contemplating the questions we all grapple with when it comes to moving on and growing up. How soon is too soon? Not much is spoken between the two, but strong gushes of wind convey volumes of the unspoken words.
Killa (English: Fort), the central theme, stands as a metaphor for Chinmay and Aruna. Both struggle with different aspects of their lives and are lonely, desolate, yet stoic in the face of a turbulent sea (of change).
As seasons change, slowly and steadily, the sea becomes calmer and the mild-mannered Chinmay resurfaces.
Another memorable sequence to back this is a trust test to which Chinmay subjects himself. Afraid of confrontation with his friends, our little hero sulks and then jumps onto a boat with a heavy-drinking fisherman. It seems impulsive and distinctive of the rest of the movie – not much is said, but whatever transpires begins to heal Chinmay. The sea provides solace and persuades him to give friendship, his mother, and himself a second chance.
Killa is lofty with emotions, a film that's as much about the bittersweet pains of growing up - of looking forward - as it is about peering into the past. The opening shot takes us inside a picturesque and verdant lane of the new town, showing us what this new world looks and feels like, which Chinmay will soon try to befriend and understand. In contrast to one of the final shots in the film, we find Chinmay at yet another upheaval, to another relocation phase. However, this time lays an unwavering sincerity; Chinmay displays confidence and maturity and somehow seems ready to find new experiences, challenges and disappointments.
While the film may not venture out to answer the profound truths of life, it leaves me with a sense of fulfilment. For I know, some of the most important growing up happens during self-doubt and feelings of isolation.
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