Director: Sumira Roy | India
On his 50th wedding anniversary Narayan proposes to his wife : let’s die together. She says yes!
We explore their spirited, humanist journey from the moment of this profound life choice.
EXIT is a character driven, observational feature documentary.
In Mumbai’s oldest chawl, we meet octogenarians Narayan & Irawati, who have lived within the confines of a 10ft x10ft partitioned room, for over 52 years.
They are India’s first couple to petition the President and Supreme Court of India, for the right to die together with dignity.
At an unhurried pace, we eavesdrop on their silences, memories, fears, dreams. Watch their sagging, crumpled skin complete daily chores. With neither resources nor access to authorities, their story is highlighted through the media. Attention brings the watchful eyes of cops to their doorstep.
Long takes of Narayan’s silent stares,sometimes overlaid with his philosophical thoughts, lets us travel into his mind .
Whilst Irawati diligently and cheerfully does house work. She confides in her friend about life with Narayan.
Married due to parental compulsions, their quarrels, peppered with wry humour ,hark back to the day both agreed to wed.
One wonders whether their decision not to have kids, to seek mortality and donate their bodies, is as mutual as first appeared ?
The story takes a sudden turn when Irawati is diagnosed with cancer.
Committed to dying she becomes fiercely about life!
As her body becomes a burden, her desire to engage with the modern world grows. At her behest,her favourite brother teaches her to use a mobile.
Narayan’s existential anguish grows .He confronts the possibility of watching his wife suffer and being left behind. He reacts by not letting her go out.
Time reveals its many dimensions .It comes in life affirming seasons, in the circularity of day and night ,in the longevity of this living space and in the parallel narrative of a vibrant community outside the couple’s doorstep .
The rhythmic choreography of time passing by these busy city lives, flows in and out of their room disrupting their rhythm of waiting for release, amplified by the density of space and time within their four walls.
The city ,on its own march of time to build metro stations, by tearing up roads with monstrous drilling machines ,further isolates them.
As Irawati starts to shed her role as a dutiful wife and come into her own,we experience them becoming each other’s own obstacle.
Where will this journey take us ?What will their post Covid reflections be?Will one of them succumb to natural death ?Will they be pushed to take a drastic step? Anything is possible.
I hope the film provokes us to think of our life choices through the pinhole of our mortality.
This film began with the story of my mother.
My mother, a fiery, independent lady was shattered when her doctor told her she can’t drive anymore. She was 79 and suddenly started this repetitive refrain ‘I want to die with dignity’. I glossed over it, reminding her she had an active social life.
One year later she passed away.
Sometimes, Love is not enough .
I realized I had failed to really listen to her.
One day, I read a news story about a couple in their 80’s who petitioned for the right to die with dignity .The words ‘die with dignity ‘popped out of the page and I rushed to meet them to understand what my mother had said .
Through filming with this remarkable couple over 3 years what I learnt “about dying with dignity” is that it has nothing with death and everything to do with LIFE itself.
I began to see what drove them to their decision at such a late stage of their life.
Most importantly the fear of loss of autonomy and personhood which has the power to strip one of one’s dignity. Paradoxically making this high caste Brahmin couple take an anti-karma stance. The sense of being obsolete, inabilities with technology and feeling invisible in a youth fixated society added to diminishing their self-worth.
I knew I didn’t want to make a human rights activist or legal oriented film .
I was mindful therefore to reveal their plea through subtle means which brought more layers than just information .
I also wanted the telling be light ,the unspooling of the story revealed in drips ,a distinctive visual look , observing micro moments and the venous map of their bodies ,also sharing their unique perspective on the meaning of life.
I want this film to inspire a relatable conversation about ageing ,long lasting relationships ,living and dying .And about how we treat our elders (In India their population is growing 3 times faster than the youth .71 percent of elderly are abused *).
This is a universal story and for everyone but my preferred viewer would be an 18 year old anywhere in the world who through this film understands why his grandparents perceive the meaning of life, of time ,of mortality and of quality of living, differently as they age in body and mind .Hopefully leading to more enriching relationships with the elderly.
Knowing what I know now, my last days with my mother would have been different.
*Economic Times June 2019
We have about 35 % of filming remains, currently postponed because of Covid.
We are in the last stage of filming. I am working on the story structure in an assembly.
3 words best describe me. Curiosity made me a storyteller. It gave me a much awarded advertising career in the creative side and made me take up entrepreneurship as co-founder of an advertising agency and founder of a design boutique. It shaped my decision after a Masters to do a post -graduation from Rikkyo University,Tokyo. Contemplation about our existential and behavioural impulses gave me the reputation for creating insightful work .A persistent question developed into a creative documentary ‘Last Days .Last Shot .It won best medium length documentary at Helsinki ,had invited premieres in Stuttgart, New York Museum of the Moving Image, official selections in Film South Asia ,Java ,Trento Italy amongst others .It was selected by Docwok (part of Dok Leipzig) as one of the 7 Asian films for a mentorship forum .I want to make films which provoke reflection on our own belief systems and world view . My documentary project about the sisterhood of Muslim women who wear Hijabs in Germany got me a recent ‘Crossing Borders Grant’ from The Literary Colloquium of Berlin and Robert Bosch Foundation and is in the early stage of production . Compassion made me an empathetic story teller and good listener and empathetic to the characters I film.