A flame flickers in the dark. The lighter illuminates a face as a cigarette is being lit. But wait… there are clearly two faces—one half, a moustachioed male; the other female. The woman, seemingly agonised, traces her face with her hands. The man jots down notes. She begins to dance, he smokes.
This is the teaser, released by Chandan Gomes, a well-known Delhi-based visual artist working with photography, for his eight-minute-long film titled, All That We Wish to Stay, which will be released on an OTT platform soon. If it reminds one of the 1966 psychological drama Persona, where the faces of actors Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson merge, it is not surprising.
As in Ingmar Bergman’s classic, Gomes explores the import and ramifications of mental illness as he did in his startling photographs exhibited at the Kochi Biennale in 2018-19. The melding of man and woman, in his teaser, is also close to the ardhnarishwar concept which, incidentally, was the symbol of one of Kolkata’s first psychiatric clinics. And why wouldn’t it be? Gomes’ film is about a woman who is hospitalised for major depression and post-traumatic stress. Love is responsible for her state.
However, the psychiatrist discovers that her problem had possibly made her thinking more lucid. So, can a certain mental condition be deemed a psychological disorder only because it doesn’t conform with the societal norms? The line between the real and imagined is blurred. The otherwise silent film ends with the psychiatrist’s monologue where he explains what happened. Gomes quotes Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem to explain his film—“Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.” It is a thought that he has explored in his short film.
“Fiction is my mainstay,” he remarks, as “it’s easier to get funds for it”. Soon he intends to dive into full-length features. Gomes, who studied philosophy at St Stephen’s College in Delhi, has exhibited at several places both within and outside of India. He started out as a photo-journalist but transitioned to build an art practice that centres around narrative-driven photography and handmade books. “Being a student of philosophy, a lot of things I studied, in theory, can be explored in art,” says Gomes.
The 33-year-old further elaborates: “What is in the mind is not visible, and what is not visible is not seen. Hence a photographer’s challenge is to make visible something that is not seen.” Loved ones suffering from different disorders like depression and memory loss, and the toll that life takes of one—these are questions “that keep coming back to me, one way or the other.” In 2019, he took a break from his photographic practice to pursue filmmaking full-time.
And he is learning the craft on the job with this debut film. Gomes began the shoot in November 2020 in Delhi and it was wrapped up in two days. But the work on screenplay had started as early as June. Gomes is a tough taskmaster: The brief for the music director was to use a single instrument to make a “minimalistic and intense” piece to show the woman’s struggle. The actress had to undergo “intensive dance training” from the choreographer.
Although it is short, he had professionals so that he could create cinema instead of a YouTube video, which, according to him, most short films look like. Even though Gomes received a grant to make the film, he overshot his budget. Now he is raising funds for post-production. He aims to finish the film by February so that from March it can travel the film festival circuit. Then it will be released on a streaming platform.