Director: Prahas Nair
Writer: Prahas Nair
Running time: 20mins
Most film festivals depend on submission fees to sustain their operations. That makes granting fee waivers difficult. In turn, though, this means that already marginalised voices can struggle to be heard at the only outlets their stories may have.
Indy Film Library’s Saturday Matinees series has returned for a second season, to give artists from low-income backgrounds, opposition groups hit by censorship, or individuals in nations hit by international sanctions a platform.
The latest six-part series of Saturday Matinees has already shown work from South Africa, Iran and Nepal. This week, our free-to-view short comes from Prahas Nair, a filmmaker based in Kerala. His work explores India’s post-colonial history, and the lingering British norms that lingered throughout the country’s accelerated ‘modernisation’ drive of the late 20th century.
The Discipline focuses on a small residential hostel, established to supply education for children in the 1990s. Throughout what is often a protracted and uncomfortable watch, Nair’s story sees the hostel’s lone teacher and disciplinarian mete out corporal punishments for truly absurd reasons – the belief seemingly being that her wards will be better prepared for life in the labour pool if they are scared to have their own aspirations or interests.
The digital black-and-white cinematography of Sarath Sasi is wrought with deep and beautiful contrasts – but its telling lack of colour is also illustrative of the lives the children are expected to live. The images we see are ones we would usually expect to be bursting with vibrance. But the red earth and flourishing trees surrounding the hostel, the food which the children eat, and the cricket stumps they have painted onto a brick wall are all washed out, representing the grey and indifferent world they are being forced to submit to.
At the same time, the teacher is not just some tyrannical caricature, who derives joy from the misery of her students. She is shown as having worries of her own, and pressures to conform on another front in her own right. This might have been better foregrounded and explored throughout the film – especially given its occasionally laborious 20-minute running time. However, it is an interesting inclusion, that at least hints we might think about what we have seen in the context of our own lives.
The teacher does not need to be a monster to do monstrous things in her daily life. In fact, she seems in to care about the children in some manner – so this suggests she believes what she is doing is for their own good. In that case, it is worth considering in which ways our own actions might also be harming others, even if we think they are well-intentioned.
The biggest downside to all this, however, is that Nair has not bothered to transcribe the credits of his film when submitting to festivals. That means, despite some incredibly moving performances, I am not able to properly praise the efforts of any of the cast. The children each exhibit a remarkable emotional maturity – on top of the fear and sadness they display when facing their teacher’s wrath, there are also moments of levity, resilience and rebellion conveyed through their expressions and body language. It is something Nair needs to keep in mind whenever he submits work like this to festivals overseas.
At the same time, a very light-touch narrative style, with very little direct exposition, may make it difficult to fully appreciate. Without the contextual awareness viewers in India might have, to be able to pick up on what is happening and why, some of it may be lost in translation. Even so, The Discipline is well worth a watch – showing the human consequences of the dispassionate building blocks which India used to emulate the economic success of its former colonisers.
The film will be available to view for free in full from 09:00 UK time on Saturday the 25th of February, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page. As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE2324 to access the film.
Stay tuned for another film next week!