Directed by Freddie Basnight | Reviewed by Rohan Bhattacharya
Love is a word that knows no boundary. A feeling that transcends language, ethnicity, and every other socio-economic barrier created by humans to segregate one another. An emotion that connects souls who wish to find harmony in each other’s existence. Freddie Basnight’s short film, “Forbidden Love,” adds another layer to this familiar, yet mysterious word; the word becomes a personification of struggle, and the fight to stay together despite all odds. Devonte and Senamika were shown to be in a rather pleasant relationship for almost a couple of years, until one dreadful morning, when the latter was given a choice; they were thrown into an alien circumstance where their difference in ethnicity threatened to draw them apart. Basnight tries to showcase his interpretation of love, while battling a social issue that torments lovers even in this day and age. His dramatic presentation of a very real situation is truly commendable.
The film starts off with a montage of pictures of both Senamika and Devonte together, smiling, and holding each other close. The audience is at once drawn into their world which at first is nothing but colorful, radiating liveliness, and is without a shred of malevolence or chaos. The music flows with the montage; a composition on a major scale, but is interjected with minor notes that seem to break the harmony in the music, introducing an underlining sense of sadness and vulnerability. We cut to a shot of their apartment whereafter the title, “Forbidden Love” is shown in red. The title lingers on the screen while we cut to a long shot of Senamika getting ready for work. She too is wearing red. Through the subtle use of colors, Basnight hints at Senamika being the one that brings with her the sense of forbidden-ness in their clear sense of love for one another. While the room is spotless white, it is the title and Senamika’s clothing that brings in the contrast.
In the proceeding shots, it is shown that Senamika’s parents, after hearing that she was dating Devonte, an African-American man, are in great shock. They wish for her to return to India where they will force her to marry an Indian man. Basnight’s study of South-Asian cultures is apparent here; in countries like India, marrying into one’s own caste is preferred by the older generation. Family plays an extremely crucial role in the lives of most South Asian individuals. Despite becoming adults, many youngsters in South Asian countries need to heed their parents’ advice when it comes to factors that may decide their future. The director utilizes close shots to establish the closeness between the couple; however, he shifts to using over-the-shoulder shots as soon Senamika tells Devonte about her parents. While Devonte wishes to live together with his girlfriend, Senamika is confused, and cannot seem to choose between her parents and Devonte. In my opinion, the use of shots to showcase the growing distance between the couple is one of the more fascinating aspects of this short film.
After confronting Senamika’s brother, Devonte is left shaken. Again, the confrontation between these two men of opposing ideologies is done brilliantly with the use of well-placed over-the-shoulder shots, accompanied by tastefully presented closeups of our character’s faces. After a montage of what felt like bytes from Devonte’s memories of the couple being happy with one another, we reach the climax of the film, where Devonte’s trauma surfaces, and is revealed to its fullest. While it seems as if love had lost the battle here, in the end, Basnight leaves the viewers confused, as Devonte’s eyes are drawn outside his washroom. Maybe love did win this battle after all?
Basnight’s smart choice of shots and colors added to the beauty showcased in “Forbidden Love,” However; I believe had the actors presented their emotions better, the film could have made a deeper impact. The cinematographer could have played with the lights and the shadows better to create more visual drama, adding to the aesthetics of the short film. Furthermore, the confrontation between the brother and Devonte could have been more intense with the right use of dialogue by the director.
Rohan Bhattacharya is a video editor, filmmaker and writer. His film Komorebi won the second prize in ‘South Asia Japanese Language Short Film Competition,’ organized by The Japan Foundation, New Delhi and his latest film “Tsubaki” has been screened at the Tokyo Short Film Festival in Japan. His production house Sunkaku Productions makes movies in Japanese language to create a bridge of culture between India and Japan.