Directed by: #JunayedAlavi
Written by: #JunayedAlavi
Holy Sin is Junayed Alavi’s (Kolkata, India-based) 11th short film released on YouTube Channel Alavi Motion Pictures. Neuroscience/film graduate Alavi’s work demonstrates not only his great passion for film but real potential as an excellent cinematographer with talent for creating powerful visual metaphors and exploring important political issues.
Biblical thriller, Holy Sin is about ‘sin and justice’ featuring the ‘lucifer-like’ Priest (Risov Pal). Set in Edenic, palm-filled gardens, we begin at snake-height with blurred hand-held shots. This, combined with Alavi’s superb choice Donovan’s Hurdy-gurdy man, establish the central themes of sin/eternal suffering as we meet our three sinners.
1. A woman embraces her partner but we see her flirting with another man literally behind his back. We view her object of lust via a heart-shaped shot. But as he leaves the frame, he is immediately replaced by a mysterious, leather-clad man (Priest).
2. Our next sinner pulls on his skull facemask and hood. Alavi uses an intensely disturbing close-up of narrow eyes staring into a beaker of acid he then throws into a woman’s face. Fragmented headlines about acid attacks explicitly reference the 1000+ annual attacks that occur in India.
3. Our third sinner, brick in hand, approaches a cowering dog. In India, where animals were traditionally sacred, such violence is increasing. The shot of the dog backing away powerfully presents the fear of helpless victims. In blackout, we imagine its agony.
Suddenly, the soundscape shifts to thunder, rain and Korzeniowski’s Deliver us from Evil. Enter Priest. Alavi uses Spielberg-inspired, silhouetted shots of him against lush green palms. Staring into camera, Priest draws a blade across his throat then Alavi cuts to a long-shot framing him at the end of a long, shadowy corridor. The contrasting dark and light exquisitely foreshadows a good/evil battle, further represented in Priest’s white stole, red crucifixes and black leather jacket. This is simply stunning cinematography.
Alavi reveals Priest has captured the sinners. The partially-stripped men are tied to a wall, crucifixion-style. Priest reads the film’s first diegetic words from the Bible, ‘the body, however, is not meant for immorality but for the Lord’. The sinners scream as Priest enacts bladed justice (supposedly God’s will). This forces us to consider the role of punishment within our justice systems (legal and religious). It’s uncomfortable viewing, and rightly so.
Having chased away a strange, snarling man, Priest enters a room where the female sinner is bound, gagged, weeping. With clasped hands, she silently appeals for forgiveness. Priest appears to cut off her fingers but darkness falls. Apparently satisfied, Priest lies in reverie, his hand of ‘justice’ conducting music then pointing at the sobbing woman (her fingers intact). Intriguingly, almost implausibly, she alone is spared but perhaps Alavi implies freedom is obtained via remorse. She flees and as Priest pursues, he is attacked by the snarling man, the setting cyclically returning to the Edenic garden.
Priest’s final words (VO), ‘whoever believes in me shall never thirst’ conventionally imply sinners need belief to survive. However, Alavi implies belief is not enough for salvation. Ultimately, the use of violence as punishment is heavily criticised. The death penalty is still used in India but Alavi suggests such solutions simply beget more violence. Priest may hold and reference the holy book but his actions directly contradict its teachings. The hypocrisy of religious leaders is exposed as despite Priest’s initial kindness to the woman who repents, his thirst for vengeance prevents his actions being holy. The oxymoronically title, Holy Sin, says it all. Violence is never the answer; neither as deterrent nor punishment. Check out this superb short, and the rest of Alavi’s work.