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Where EAST meets the Northwest

SOUL OF SAND. Soul of Sand, a suspenseful drama about a watchman and his wife who live in an abandoned mine outside Delhi and the couple’s conflict with a tyrannical landlord, screens August 21 in Portland as part of the Northwest Film Center’s Global Lens series. (Photo courtesy of Reel Illusion Films)

From The Asian Reporter, V21, #15 (August 1, 2011), page 15.

You might want to look away, but you might not be able to

Soul of Sand

Directed by Sidharth Srinivasan

Produced by Reel Illusion Films

Showing August 21 at 5:00 & 7:15pm

at the Northwest Film Center’s

Whitsell Auditorium

By Josephine Bridges
The Asian Reporter

Melodramatic violence, unsavory sex, and a heavy-handed message might make you consider giving this one a pass, but if you’ve got the stomach for it, Soul of Sand is a fascinating, even likeable, film.

Sidharth Srinivasan, with his keen eye for the unconventional and the pace of the developing world, draws the viewer into sympathy not only with his characters — well, some of his characters — but also with such unlikely objects as a sun umbrella, two mirrors with significant flaws, a mannequin, a bare light bulb, and the letter "R." Even the landscape of the abandoned mine where most of the film takes place evokes an uneasy tenderness.

The film begins with the landscape’s recent history. Accompanied by gorgeous and disturbing theme music that winds through the rest of the film and always creates a sense of shock, fields give way to factories, which fall into ruin among highways and high-rise apartment buildings. This in-between land on the outskirts of Delhi known as the National Capital Region is, as one character says, "neither city nor village." Soul of Sand is also set at the juncture in between tradition and modernity.

The plot is simple enough. A watchman and his wife live at an abandoned silica mine, which seems not much in need of any watchmen, let alone a watchman as diligent, even devoted, as this one. The watchman and his wife carry on an old argument, a corrupt policeman wanders by for bribes, the despicable landlord appears and sends the watchman off to a distant McDonald’s to buy his lunch so the landlord can spend some time with the watchman’s wife in what is surely one of the most repugnant sex scenes in all of cinema.

But the manageable, if unpleasant, routine is shattered when the landlord’s daughter — whose hand in marriage has been promised to a potential buyer of the mine, a businessman who talks on his mobile phone while the landlord obliviously extols the virtues of the property — and her lower-caste lover arrive in the dark and ask for refuge. Meanwhile, a masked killer, the very embodiment of evil, stalks the runaways.

"It’s not in my nature to leave a trail behind," he threatens another character with whom he forms a brief alliance. True to his word, the only trail he leaves is made of bodies.

Soul of Sand is a thriller, and there is plenty of suspense, but there are also a number of slow, contemplative, almost dreamlike sequences: Wind stirs low bushes in a landscape of rocks. A bird sits on a window grating, and another comes to join it. A barber who plies his trade under a tree — his mirror and price list hanging on the trunk — dispenses philosophy along with tonsorial services. The watchman, in an uncharacteristically playful frame of mind, climbs into one of the rusting machines in his charge, and the viewer glimpses the world of his imagination. The watchman’s wife secretly tries on the sari her husband has bought as a wedding gift for the landlord’s daughter, and the viewer yearns for a glimpse at the world of her imagination, but her reverie is cut short by an unexpected visitor.

Wonderful acting, a fine script, stunning cinematography, an unforgettable soundtrack: What more could you ask? You might want to look away on a few occasions. You might not be able to.

Soul of Sand is screening Sunday, August 21 at 5:00 and 7:15pm at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, located at 1219 S.W. Park Avenue in Portland. To learn more, call (503) 221-1156, or visit <www.nwfilm.org> or <www.sidharthsrinivasan.com>.