The Booth, starring Amruta Subhash, Parna Pethe, is a well-observed short about muted desires
It’s fascinating how a frisking booth, an invention to preserve a woman’s modesty, doubles up as an empowering place for two women to be their true selves.
Rohin Raveendran Nair's The Booth chooses a curious setting for itself — a mall. It's a place where most of us come to escape. Families, no matter what the situation back home, come here to paint the portrait of an 'ideal, happy' unit. Young lovers in the city, with few public places to mingle considering the omnipresent moral police, visit the mall for their stolen moments in the elevator and the food court. The recycled air, the bright lights, and the artificially-pleasant music audible in most corners of the mall - it’s all designed to make one believe that everything is (or will be) okay. And maybe that's why it's the most fitting place for Rekha and Sargam's love story.
Rekha (Amruta Subhash) works as a security guard at the mall, where she greets everyone with an impersonal "namaste, ma'am". Spending most of her day inside the titular frisking booth, where she glides the metal detector along each person's body with a mechanical precision, there's only one person she looks forward to. Sargam (Parna Pethe), evidently a college-going girl, drops by the mall every other day. Once she enters the booth, Rekha ensures curtains are shut properly, so they can steal their 15 seconds of intimacy. It's all they can afford, in a society where Rekha is pretending to be a 'happily-married wife', while Sargam is playing the part of a youngster aimlessly loitering around a shopping mall.
Nair's film touches upon the age-gap between the two lovers in more than one scene. Sargam is the reckless youngster, driven by her hormones, which is in direct conflict with Rekha’s cautious ways. Rekha is the stiff upper-lipped ‘older’ woman, whose only way of showing her affection is through her food. She packs a separate tiffin for Sargam, even promising to bring pizza the next day, as an apology after a minor tiff. Her way of saying she wants to see Sargam is by asking her to return the tiffin box. At one point, Sargam sings 'Tumse Hi' (from 2009's Jab We Met), while in a separate scene, Rekha hums 'Teri Bindiya Re' (from 1973's Abhimaan).
Nair’s film doesn’t dwell on the how or the what next. Living in the moment, the film taps into the fertile imaginations of its viewers. Did they meet inside the booth, or do they know each other from outside the mall? What’s life like outside this bubble? How does Rekha’s husband treat her at home? Does Sargam have a boyfriend in college, to keep up appearances? Do they ever meet outside the mall?
There’s an underlying paranoia in the way the camera lingers during a few scenes. Momentarily, we cut to a stalker’s mobile phone, through which he’s ogling at Sargam. There’s a CCTV camera that coldly stares at the frisking booth, seeing Sargam enter for a few minutes around the end of the day, and then leaving without entering the mall. It makes you wonder about how long the two women can keep this up. What will happen, when they get caught? Will they both be outcasts, or even worse, dead? Nair leaves us with the questions, hoping for us to come up with our own answer. How would we react, if we discovered a couple like this in our vicinity? Would we be a part of the mob trying to protect ‘Indian culture’, or the one to stand up for them?
It’s fascinating how a frisking booth, an invention to preserve a woman’s modesty, doubles up as an empowering place for two women to be their true selves. Even if only for a few minutes.
The Booth is now playing on MUBI.
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