‘Kathaah@8’ Is a Compassionate View on Love, Life and Death in Singapore
Kathaah@8 is a micro-budget, independent film, shot in Singapore over nine nights in February 2019, and the first anthology of its kind to be written, produced and directed by a single filmmaker – Shilpa Krishnan Shukla. It is also the world’s first feature film in eight Indian languages – Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu. It marks the feature film debut of 18 Singapore-based actors and had its World Premiere at the 2019 Singapore South Asian International Film Festival where it won the coveted Jury Award.
Director: Shilpa Krishnan Shukla
Cast: Charan Singh, Renita S Kapoor, Mathangi Narayanan, Geeta Balagangadharan, Prem Menon, Shekhar Nansi, Viral Patel, Archana Pradeep, Sreyus Palliyani, Saikat Mukherjee, Anindita Ghosh, Tania Mukherjee, Aditya Mazumdar, Rachita Arke, Sai Pogaru, Gautam Marathe, Shalmalee Vaidya, Arzu Arnool
Language: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu
Runtime: 90 minutes
Consisting of eight short films in eight different Indian regional languages, Kathaah@8 is truly one of a kind. While the short films are not linked in terms of story or characters, they are threaded together by the fact that they all take place around 8pm. None of the short films have an official title, what we see at the beginning of each segment instead is the language spoken. Naturally, the people who can understand all eight languages are very rare, but the language of the film isn’t its highlight.
Though the film is marketed as unique for its multilingualism, what really stands out are the recurring themes throughout the film that reflect on the social stigma and customs of the Indian communities in Singapore – old age care, arranged marriages, divorce, parenthood and death.
Shilpa Krishnan Shukla, the writer, director and producer of Kathaah@8, touches on topics of love in marriages and parenting as a personal choice and not just to answer to pressure from the couple’s families. In the film, we see a few married couples, each in a different point of their marriage, some with children, some trying to have children. While some of them are happy with their marriage, others are going through a divorce, or struggling with the idea of adoption because of pressure from their families. This portrayal of the different couples shows us different facets of marriage, and challenges the social stigmas against divorce and couples who do not have children.
Kathaah@8 encourages us to understand and show compassion towards everyone, no matter their status or situation in life.
While the film does not explicitly mention it, there is also an underlying commentary on the conflict between traditional and modern perspectives of love. Arranged marriage is a theme mentioned in two of the shorts, and they both raise the question of whether people in arranged marriages can really fall in love with each other. However, both short films seem to portray the tradition in a bad light, with one of them resulting in divorce and the other a point of conflict in an argument.
This concept of arranged marriage and the traditional mindset towards love and relationships are countered by the younger generation’s own perspectives when they decide to make the choice by themselves. This of course leads to arguments and conflicts between the generations, but it is also a sign of progress where the younger generations are questioning the reasons behind traditions. Tradition, while an important part of our culture and should be respected, should not be blindly followed. Kathaah@8 tackles this cultural difference between generations head-on, and it is refreshing to see this clash of values between the old and young.
Despite its similar themes throughout the film, Kathaah@8 suffers from the usual pacing issues commonly faced by anthologies, as each short film jumps to the next. Especially so when the stories are totally different and with no cohesive subject that strings the films together, except for them happening at around 8pm, but even that is not quite enough to tie the film together strongly.
Comprised mostly of close-ups and static camera work, the film relies heavily on its cast’s performance to sell the stories, and it does not disappoint in this aspect. Choosing to cast first timers can be daunting, even more so if the entire cast is made up of first timers, but their performances are convincing and they have great chemistry with their on-screen partners. A favourite moment would be the interaction of two couples in the Bengali short, where both couples have a mutual dislike for each other, but have to put on a fake smile when they meet, and the comedy of this hypocritical meeting is elevated by the performance of all four actors.
On a whole, the film explores stories about personal relationships, between families, friends and lovers. And while some are light-hearted, some are heavier in tone. While the film has a very encouraging message of love and compassion in the face of social stigmas, it is also quite disappointing that these prejudices exist in our society, even if they are not talked about openly and remain hidden just under the surface. Kathaah@8 shows, through eight different groups of people, that while we as a society are harmonious on the surface, we still have a long way to go to really be a supportive community.
Kathaah@8 will be having two more screenings at The Projector on 18 January, and you can check out the trailer here.