Step aside Bollywood: the most intriguing, removed-from-reality, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink film effort out of India this year comes from Kerala. And it’s only three minutes long. ‘Your Moment is Waiting’, a new promotional video for the state, had a gala premiere in London in September and was shown before cinema screenings of ‘Eat Pray Love’. I can only imagine that those who went to that film found it difficult to focus on Julia Roberts finding her true self after the quite extraordinary images of ‘Your Moment is Waiting’, for it is a bafflingly surreal experience and completely arresting – something truly unique in an increasingly bland advertising landscape.
After a few viewings, I think I understood it, though it really doesn’t seem appropriate for a tourism promo. Many are no doubt still unsure as to what it all means. In the interests of our common understanding, here’s my how-to guide for ‘Your Moment is Waiting’.
It begins with a gold-tinged scene of a waterway at dawn. Burnt-out husks of dead trees rise from the water like the Devil’s fingers – and after more than ten seconds, one of them moves! The landscape is alive! Run for your lives! It is in fact a humanoid figure, long-legged and brandishing a spear. There are no signs that it will be aggressive, but one senses that it might become so at any moment.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Welcome to Kerala.
We then meet the film’s central figure, a dark-skinned woman (played by Swedish model Miriam Ilorah) with a striking African-looking face and her eyes closed. She lies face-up on a massage table, but to plant us firmly in an off-kilter world, the camera is flipped so that we see her upside down, as if she is suspended on the underside of the table. Two more shots show off Ilorah’s whole body and a close-up of her face, now right side up and looking serene. Presumably she has just received Ayurvedic treatment.
WHAT THIS MEANS: You’re not in [insert foreign country here] any more, madam – this is Kerala, and while you might feel calm now, you have no idea what’s in store for you.
Suddenly, Ilorah is transported to some tufts of grass alongside a river, wearing the same clothes. Without opening her eyes, as if she doesn’t want to see the truth, she curls her body up into the foetal position. Again, she is shown from an upside-down camera angle, the world inverted.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Kerala will make you feel like a child without a mother: lost, confused and upset.
In the next sequence Ilorah has gathered herself and walks calmly between two compound walls. Looking over one, she sees a Kathakali performer practising his movements and facial expressions sans makeup. This is quite charming until he holds his hands up in front of his face, as if to block out the horrors in front of him, then takes them away and grimaces like a baby, with clenched fists wobbling beside his face. Ilorah looks on, her face remaining expressionless.
WHAT THIS MEANS: The local arts are fascinating, but even a clearly experienced artist is still a little freaked out by his surroundings.
Posed delicately in a canoe, Ilorah meanders through Kerala’s backwaters as another canoe approaches – in which a double of herself rides. They look into each other’s eyes as they pass, faces still somehow motionless. The scenery is beautiful but the camera stays focused on the twin Ilorahs, the palm trees and glistening water all blurry in the background.
WHAT THIS MEANS: After some time in Kerala, nothing – not even being duplicated into two bodies – will surprise you any more; also, this is NOT a film about Kerala but a film about one person’s odyssey into the unknown.
In the forest now, a long-haired person sits cross-legged – hands bound – on the ground, head shaking wildly as drummers tap out a fast beat and a large group of men in lungis look on. The scene appears to be an exorcism. At its close the person is revealed to be Ilorah, still apparently unmoved judging by her flat lips and eyebrows, and a group of children look on with similar apathy.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Ayurveda isn’t the only form of body cleansing in Kerala, though in order to experience this unusual method you may need to be kidnapped and taken to a remote forest area.
A most bizarre set of images follows. Theyyam artists are given close-ups in sequence: one gyrating (for an almost subliminal half-second), one sitting completely immobile, and a third jabbering in tongues into Ilorah’s ear. Their costumes and makeup remind one of those 16th Century depictions of the nine circles of Hell. Naturally, Ilorah STILL shows no emotion. A wide shot shows all three Theyyam artists, Ilorah sitting with her arms crossed against her chest – kind of a ‘do not want’ pose – and… a stray dog, who looks positively thrilled.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Kerala District Tourism Corporation hired David Lynch and Lars von Trier to collaborate on this promo. (It was actually Prakash Varma, but this scene is almost directly out of von Trier’s Antichrist.)
The final scene sees Ilorah, whose customary blank face has taken on the qualities of a mask to shelter her from the world, caressing an elephant in a stream with sunlight glinting through the surrounding trees. As she rests her head against its trunk, the images are filtered through a brown wash so that everything is more or less the same brown or grey colour.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Having finally turned to pachyderms as opposed to people, Ilorah merges with the landscape, her personality long since stripped away.
A title card appears. ‘YOUR MOMENT is WAITING’.
WHAT THIS MEANS: This is what awaits you in Kerala. Those tickets to Bali are probably looking pretty good right now, right?
Photo credit: Rajesh Vijayarajan