Annup Sonii, Divya Dutta’s Short Film ‘The Relationship Manager’ Is A Hard-Hitting Take On Domestic Abuse During Lockdown
If you’re worried about how filmmakers are going to create content in a post-coronavirus world, the answers have just begun pouring in. An Indian TV show just had its lead cast express love by helping each other put on face masks and shields. Taylor Swift surprised her fans by writing and directing her own music video for ‘Cardigan’, during lockdown, using special effects and a medical inspector supervising the shoot. And now there’s a short film called The Relationship Manager, that has been shot during the lockdown, with it being a part of the premise. The film starring Annup Sonii and Divya Dutta is directed by Falguni Thakore, and presented by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films. It deals with the issue of domestic violence, and how, even when we think we cannot help the abused, there can be a way.
Every relationship is based on a strong foundation of love, care & respect. What happens when the foundation gets weak with time? Find out in 'The Relationship Manager', a powerful short by #FalguniThakore . Coming soon! #RoyalStagBarrelSelect #LargeShortFilms #Powerful #Original pic.twitter.com/hl4ZNcDY2p
— Large Short Films (@LargeShortFilms) July 14, 2020
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The film begins with a visual we’re all too familiar with—Annup Sonii’s character returns home from a grocery run, sporting a mask and gloves. He carefully sanitises his shopping, while talking to his pregnant wife, Riya, played by Sonii’s IRL wife, Juhi Babbar Sonii. Right away, from their conversation, you realise that Sonii’s character, Vinay, is a kind, helpful and affable man. And we soon find out, so is his wife. (Simi Auntie would totally approve of their match.)
Vinay is a bank relationship manager. In case you’re unaware, you probably have one too, a bank staffer who calls you or who you can call in case you need any help with your banking needs. The next few minutes of the film are spent familiarising us with his work-from-home routine. His desk is set up with all the latest contraptions, and he calls his clients one by one. We get a cameo by Anupam Kher, whose character could easily pass for that uncle who falls for desi flattery and hates China. Next is Sana Khan, who plays one of those social media celebs we love to hate—dramatic, superficial, and will talk to you nicely only when they need something from you.
The central plot doesn’t begin until Vinay calls his third client for the day. In hindsight, I was quick to dismiss the first two client call scenes as unnecessary. But on second thought, they helped reinforce the idea that Vinay was pretty darn good at his job, no matter what type of client personality he encountered. He probably knew that they didn’t care much about his calls and would probably avoid him if they could, but as a relationship manager, he managed it all well. What happens next then flows perfectly as a clash between what his job’s limitations are and what his duty as a human being is.
On his third call to a client, Vinay hears what he suspects is an instance of domestic violence. The client, Mr. Arora, was probably hitting his wife, Kavita (Divya Dutta). We see Vinay recede into catatonic fugue state, where even his wife’s voice doesn’t reach him. He tells her about his suspicions. Thankfully, she doesn’t say, “Isse humein kya?” Unlike other people who might discourage interference in another’s private life, even when they see something wrong happening, Riya encourages Vinay to check up on the woman.
Have you ever gotten irritated when asked too many questions by telemarketeers who are trying to sell you things or explain you plans and offers? I know I have, and regretted later. They’re just doing their job, aren’t they? But here, by asking a client about something so personal, Vinay is doing more than his job permits him to. He isn’t hesitant, which makes you wonder what is he going to say? How is he going to approach Kavita, and gain her trust enough that she doesn’t mind him broaching the topic? Will he be able to help her? These questions are, I would say, quite beautifully answered in the next few minutes. The short film ends to an open interpretation, letting the audience make their own version of the ending. But the message is loud and clear—despite the restrictions in both physical movement (because of the lockdown) and societal movement (Vinay was clearly overstepping his role as a relationship manager), there is always a way you can help someone in need.
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The short film is 18 minutes long, and apart from those two cameo scenes, keeps things tight. The conversation between Annup Sonii and Divya Dutta flows smoothly, and the camera fixates closely on them, leaving no other distractions in the frame, thereby making their expressions even more impactful. It’s important, because their faces are the only tools they have to convey the intensity of their emotions. The dialogues are crisp and thankfully not melodramatic. I have recently become a fan of highly emotional scenes being devoid of music, because the silence between the pauses just intensifies everything. Luckily, the background score here doesn’t feel too intrusive, something that was strongly the case in the Taapsee Pannu and Pavail Gulati starrer Thappad, another movie about domestic abuse.
For the past four months, there are countless women, the world over, who are stuck indoors with their abusers or oppressors. With nowhere else to go, finances being scarce and help resources being reallocated, these women have nowhere to go. Rising unemployment, anxiety, stress, and other issues have led to an increase in cases of violence against women. In such times, a film like The Relationship Manager puts forth an important message in a hard-hitting way.
You can watch the film here: