We all romanticize the past. And the sprinkled history that keeps us tied to the idea of our origins. Of splendor, lost in a haze of brutal passing, with just weathered ruins that remind us of its existence. We lament looking at those ruins again and again, hoping someone cared. From a distance ‘the other’ living in the old, congested parts of Delhi, where time itself seems to have stalled, seems charming, and our only connect with history. That we wish is preserved for all time to come.
Gali Guleiyan, takes a nose dive into what seems charming to us. And changes that entirely, holding onto our guts through its 1 hour 55 minutes of run time. The very real claustrophobia, of trappings- both emotional and circumstantial is as thick as the walls that hold it together in the home we see on screen. The maze that forces you to go in circles again and again, to a point where you are forced to lose yourself, and embrace those trappings both as a safety net, and something you loathe, as living time passes you by. And you remain stuck in the idea of a past, with nothing to look forward to, and nothing to look back at.
The nothingness in Gali Guleiyan is as apparent as its inherent pathos. Of a man trapped, in his mind and space, his solitude engulfs you. It is his defense mechanism, his most dependable companion and also his most despised alter ego. The maze, also a metaphor for his own mind, insists you forget the idea of time, space, senses and being.
Gali Guleiyan brings this to life in the most formidable way, with the unsettling, and insurmountable talent of Manoj Bajpayee. He rarely speaks, and you hear the cracks in his voice due to lack of use, but his face expresses the angst, sadness, confusion all in equal measure. Parts are being written for actors finally, and Bajpayee ensures that he devours this with veritable ease. Pride and helplessness, anger and hurt - Manoj Bajpayee brings alive the pain, and the tussle most eloquently. Neeraj Kabi is formidable, and Shahana Goswami is the balm the wound needs as you live through the journey of the film. Om Singh is a find, with his raw talent and deadpan acceptance of realities that add to the layer of claustrophobia within the film. Where even to feel and express is a rarity.
Cinematically the film uses little metaphors to give us glimpses into its final reveal, which I will not give away. It is up to the audience to notice them and join the dots. The sound design makes the sense of feeling trapped come alive, adds to the tension of the film. It has a genuine character of its own that runs through consistently with the film, forming its soul that lets you experience it as a whole. Light design within the space helps build character of both the frame, and accentuate our protagonist’s story. Tight close ups, tight shots of movement insist you look beyond what you see, experiencing the space, the darkness and the silences in equal measure.
When editing and pace are played within a film, they allow different experiences at different times. The second half paces better, much like a runner who is itching to get to the finish line and takes you with them. Dipesh Jain’s film is riveting, consuming and sad, and leaves imprints on the underside of your eyelids, and in your heart, that engulf you in your solitary moments.
It is such a pleasure to see the technique of Gali Guleiyan move in tandem with its heart and story. It is this that allows the film to move beyond a narrative to be viewed, and become a film to be experienced and let in. Let in to a point that it gnaws at your very heart and soul. And forces you to think about it again and again. And of an alternate reality so different from yours. It helps you bridge the idea of ‘the other’ and forces you to live through the tough realities around you.
(Saumya Baijal is a bilingual writer, poet, theatre person, storyteller and advertising professional. She writes avidly on gender, culture and cinema.)