When it comes to the spectrum of sexuality there a very few films that explore a same sex romance between middle class individuals. Written and directed by Rohin Raveendran Nair, The Booth represents the uneasiness, inhibitions and yet at the same time – the freedom associated with liberating/exhibiting one’s sexuality.
The screenplay is written with room for only a few dialogues along with brilliant inclusion of music and many other subtle symbolic details that add a lot of depth to the silences and the acts that exist between such well created spaces.
For me the ‘booth’ is a metaphor for the space inside which the sexual identity of Rekha resides. The only place where she gets to be free is inside a confined space. Sargam on the other hand visits the mall only to spend some time with Rekha, most of which is from a distance. They eat the same food, which is indicative of their similar tastes in life but they have it away from each other which shows how society would not be ready to accept their similar preferences.
Rekha’s day goes by in a very monotonous fashion and the boredom and loneliness on her face is visible throughout the course of the short film. Quite early on in the film, focus is drawn towards the wedding ring of Rekha which prepares the viewers for the dual life that she leads. Sargam on the other hand feels anxious when she is asked by the emcee in the mall if she has a boyfriend. Even if she wants to talk about the woman that she desires, she can’t because they’re constantly under the scan of the society/audience. She sings the song “tum se hi” for her lady love who is completely unaware and busy in her own monotonous world.
Sargam goes around the mall gawking at luxuries she could never afford which again according to me is indicative of her desires which she could never avail. There is also a subsequential conflict shown within Rekha where she shrugs off Sargam when she enters the booth to get frisked once again. Sargam still waits for Rekha to finish her shift and in the meantime Rekha makes it up to her by saying that she will get Pizza for lunch the next day. This at the same times establishes the fact that the romance and tension between the protagonists is not something new, it is an existing routine.
There are also other details like the pervert who records a video of Sargam making her uncomfortable. This scene according to me is just an addition to the narrative that tries to vocalise how society gazes at women, even from a distance.The film leaves a lot of scope for the viewers to perceive and draw conclusions about their romance; its intensity, future, foundation as well as conflicts.
The climax of the film draws attention towards another symbolic aspect; the CCTV cameras. The cameras do not capture what happens inside the booth; to a larger extent this is symbolic of how so many romances are hidden from the eyes of the society because they fret disapproval and judgement. A smaller instance that could be indicative of this judgement might be when a lady in the booth makes faces while Rekha touches her shoulder by mistake.
Even with minimal dialogues, the film manages to keep the viewers engaged because the subtle details speak for themselves. The performance by both the actors is remarkable as they are able to successfully project an unsettling romantic chemistry which makes the viewers feel unsettled throughout, not in a creepy but much rather heavy way.
Rekhas discomfort and Sargams eagerness makes for a superb example of the conflict arising from not just same sex romances but also from their age gap. Rekha is sturdy and rigid in her demeanour whereas Sargam is quite young and enthusiastic. She longs for Rekhas reassuring touch whereas for Rekha she is her escape from the suffocating construct of the ‘booth’ or her truth.
The short film ends where Rekha cleanses her utensils and leaves the mall. This makes for an open-ended discussion where many conclusions can be drawn and forthcomings can be analysed. Most would say that the future of their situationship appears doomed but that is exactly the unsettling takeaway that the narrative built upon.
The Booth is one of the most well written films that looks at sexuality from a wider deeper lens, something that is not seen quite often.
Now available on Mubi.