BENGALURU : When Jayakrishnan Subramanian’s cousin could not trace her husband who went to work in Dubai, their family was left in the dark. Three months later, they found him dead under mysterious circumstances. It took another harrowing six months to get his body back home. This story became a premise for his experimental documentary titled Palai—Landscapes of Longing. “He was taken there to work as a construction labourer. There is a possibility it might have been a suicide. There are several migrant workers like him, who are taken from Tamil Nadu to the Middle East on the pretext of promising jobs and fortunes,” says Jayakrishnan adding, “They pay handsome amounts to agents, who cheat them on arrival.”
The National Institute of Design graduate interviewed the wife and has brought out the dialogue between the couple through a fictionalised voice-over. This reality is juxtaposed against two thousand years old Tamil Sangam love poetry.“Various stages of love are represented through landscapes in this kind of poetry. I have chosen the desert theme, that metaphorically represents longing and separation between a man and a woman. I have used four poems, music and visuals of landscape,” says the director about his 28-minute documentary.
He received a grant from city-based India Foundation for the Arts, under the Arts Research programme. The film, which was screened recently at Indian Institute for Human Settlements, is multi-layered in the sense that, aspects of Tamil Nadu’s local street theatre form is also used. “I told the actors my personal story and had them enact it, in the street theatre format.
The film has a socio-political and emotional subject. It is a depiction of modern day slavery. They are made to work in inhumane conditions, with less pay. If they quit or get fired, their passport is withheld by the employer, which means they either continue to work illegally, get thrown into jail or end up killing themselves.” He says he has spoken to other such victims too. “I once met a mechanical engineer from India who was cleaning floors of a mosque in the Middle East. So many of them take loans from their relatives to pay the agent and go into debt. Women often are sexually harassed by their employers.”