Directed by Vivek Kumar/ Reviewed by Prarthana Mitra
Queen is a very timely project on social isolation and its toll on mental health, at a time when discourse on gender and psychology is raging across the globe. The exclusion in this short film is experienced by a middle-aged woman of Indian origin, narrated from the point of view of her husband who is desperate to see his wife happy. Cleverly exploring the the emotional triggers for Rani’s increasing despondency, Australia-based filmmaker Vivek Kumar shows how mid-life crisis and depression can often coincide for certain women, which when aggravated by neglect even leads to suicidal tendencies.
When the movie begins, we see the titular Rani (played by Meenu Srivastava) actively participating in life – taking dance lessons, cooking savoury delicacies for Vikram etc. But the news of her friend’s death jolts her out of her high spirits, which is compounded by Vikram’s inattentiveness. As Rani snowballs into the pits of despair, she begins to lose track of time, a good night’s sleep, and her enthusiasm for hobbies. In the end, the fact that she is childless turns out to have clearly left a deep imprint on her identity as a woman. But Vivek does not go to such lengths as calling her condition a hysteric fit. The film, shot in Australia, also seems to suggest that expat housewives have it worse because of their inability to relate to foreign cultures.
In fact, several studies show that migrating diasporas feel socially and emotionally isolated when they relocate and settle in a different country, to the point where the lack of communication adversely affects their mental health.
Kumar himself reprises the role of the husband (Vikram), who at first goes about his daily business without giving much thought to Rani’s agonies. He is completely out of his depth and at his wit’s end because he can’t seem to grasp what’s ailing her. Later when her condition worsens, however, he leaves no stone unturned to convince her that the woes and worries she has harboured over time need not drive her for the rest of her life.
As his old college friend reminds him over FaceTime, Ghalib’s verse on showing anxiety the door, applies now more than ever. With the help of his psychologist friend and other well wishers from the community, he undertakes a journey to restore Rani’s zest for life. He decides to let work take a backseat and organizes a get-together where their family friends and acquaintances take turns narrating what makes Rani a real queen.
The film in itself is an effective PSA – a solid, well-scripted, slice-of-life documentary to trace the manifestations and remedies of degrading mental health. But as a piece of cinematic work, it leaves very little for the viewer or critic to mull over. Stylistically, Queen looks quite low-budget. It is generous in its use of amateurish cuts, shaky shots, abrupt visual and sound effects to drive home the point, and at times to depict the psychological state of its protagonist. Some of the scenes are well-enacted, but others have a declamatory quality that renders the whole experience inauthentic. The dubbing is often inaccurate, making it even more difficult to assess the delivery and dialogue. The locales (outdoor shots) and production design (indoors) could have been captured better with more static and long takes.That said, brevity and pace is the only thing working for Queen. It keeps the viewer hooked for the entire duration and lets them immerse themselves in the leading duo’s lives. It is an emotional roller-coaster for any woman who feels insecure about tipping her prime, and for men who experience aging differently and see their longtime partner suffer needlessly.