Director PC Shekhar’s Raga is ostensibly a film about a blind couple. Except that it really isn’t.
To start at the beginning – Raga tells the tale of a blind man Mithra (played by Mithra, the film’s producer) who runs a public telephone booth at a hospital. One day he meets a blind woman Anu (Bhama), who’s tired of her disability and wanting to end her life.
He convinces her not to, they befriend each other, and love begins to bloom between them. Along the way, Anu regains her sight. This, the film goes on to say, raises the question of whether love can overcome distances of class, disability and so on. Espousing most of these questions is Anu’s father (played by Avinash), who’d rather have his daughter marry a rich, able-bodied, good-looking man, than the golden-hearted but damaged Mithra.
Director Shekhar attempts to play out this story with great visual and auditory embellishment, and succeeds for the most part. The camera work, the lighting and the set design all give the film a dreamy landscape perfectly suited for a sweet fantasy. The music, while a bit too overt at times, also aids this enterprise, giving the whole film a warm and fuzzy aesthetic.
But watching the story unfold, you’re left with a bad taste in the mouth, as you can’t quite escape the feeling that the film may have blind protagonists, but doesn’t see itself through them.
While Mithra occupies the centre of the film, he stands there only as a mirror to the faults and foibles of the able-bodied characters around them. If there’s a word that might perfectly describe his character, it’s “inspiration”. Much as we throw it around, Mithra is the inspirational heart of this film, who’s pure goodness and generosity (despite his disability), is a moral imperative to the able-bodied characters who are all flawed despite having it all.
He becomes a valourised, nearly deified, hero – he’s the bigger man who forgives all insults because he can ‘see’ clearly to the heart of the situation, has all the insights on living a noble life, and is always ready to give up on his own desires because he understands what can be and what cannot. What an exhausting and unhappy life it seems, despite all the rueful smiles he throws at the audience.
Anu, on the other hand, comes from privilege, and so suffers another kind of reduction. She’s completely infantilised into innocent good-heartedness. Indeed, in the first half of the film, her own exaggerated marionette-like movements and abrupt expressions of emotion, and everyone else’s treatment of her makes you wonder if she also suffers from a mental disability.
The problem with both Mithra and Anu, is that the film is so eager for them to represent moral truths that there’s little room left for them to be real people. Even the discovery of their true love for each other, is less about themselves than about a learning experience for all the able-bodied people around them.
It’s encouraging that we’re starting to see more protagonists with disability on screen. But if we’re only going to appropriate their lives for our moral betterment, perhaps we shouldn’t bother at all.