The Strange Case of Shiva

MUBI’s synopsis describes this indie film as “esoteric”, and I sure wasn’t prepared for the level of esotericism coming at me. This is a film that is far drawn out from the conventional ideas of storytelling, and just as the above word means to say, not all stomachs will be able to digest it. We get to see a loner (Shiva) put under a microscope, and an attempt to draw some sense out of his existence. But then comes the catch – the film isn’t as vapid to just observe a man. It gives us a very specific event that defines this guy. This event is Shiva’s chance encounter with a woman who happens to walk into a photograph being clicked by him. The scene transpires much like the spotting of a serpent, a metaphor that Shiva himself alludes to (he can be seen naming the photograph as “The Dancing Serpent” – which is also a poem by Charles Baudelaire). Thus begins the guy’s obsession over this strange woman. This would ideally be the “inciting incident” of your traditional narrative film, but debutante Arun Karthick is functioning on a more abstract plane here. The microscopic gaze in showing us the life of this man sort of feels like we are becoming some sort of a voyeur. Shots of him bathing, sleeping, eating, walking through his neighbourhood, are as meditative as cinema can get, but also have a heavy feeling of peeping in to his very being. This entire deal gets even more interesting when you realise that Shiva is a major voyeur of his own. The equation with the neighbour woman is quite unsettling, going into details of which will take away the surprise of the only other “event” of the story.

Sivapuranam also comes across as a delicately constructed film – the cinematography swings between calculated frames, to images achieved by mere point-and-shoot operation. There’s no “pattern” to look for in these compositions, and with such oscillation, I feel the makers are simply imitating the diversity in the aesthetic of everyday activities. The carefully poised editing also dictates the mood created by the sound of every scene. These intricacies can form quite an experience if you are open enough to it. This is not a film with a story that wants to come full circle, but rather one that just wants to draw an abstract line of observation. Irony is usually lost on characters who are only within the world/reality of a story, but Arun gets meta on us here, making the film earn its avant-garde tag by flipping the plate and ironically making us the voyeur in the story of another.


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