Directed by: #MJArunBabu
Written by: MJ Arun Babu
It is common for many readers, watchers, and writers of fiction to observe how the make-believe is often indistinguishable from the real. As such, to successfully convey this notion within fabricated works is inherently arduous as they too transcend our reality.
Notwithstanding, MJ Arun Babu’s splendidly mystifying short Phantasmagoria continually reconfigures the spectator’s supposed understanding of this aforementioned indistinction whilst maintaining its narrative coherency.
Vignesh is an emerging #filmmaker who has managed to arrange a meeting with a producer to fund his latest work, 234. The narrative of his script revolves around an organised gang of criminals who mask as hitchhikers to rob innocent motorists on the Indian highways. Nevertheless, the line that separates Vignesh’s imagination from his real-world experience becomes progressively unclear as instances within the ostensibly distinct realms begin to overlap. Accordingly, such events begin to dismantle Vignesh’s psychological security alongside his personal relationships as the narrative descends into total uncertainty.
The title of Babu’s work alone is enough to suggest how Phantasmagoria is a perplexing viewing experience. The dualism amidst reality and fiction as well as its eventual demolition is far from an original device as proven by numerous Hollywood examples including The Number 23 and Secret Window. Nonetheless, the failure of their respective filmmakers is their overreliance on the supposed narrative ‘ingenuity’ of their screenplay. As a result, they are doomed to forget that great films are composed of much more than a mere story. Contrarily, Babu’s understated albeit ambitious short towers above those aforementioned multi-million-dollar excesses.
Undeniably, in any film that strives to dismantle the spectator’s secure understanding of its diegesis as much as Phantasmagoria, the screenplay is the fundamental conduit. Indeed, Babu’s complexly intricate script provides an essential degree of coherence amidst the chaos to successfully maintain audience engagement throughout: A task far easier said than done. Perhaps some may attribute the success of Phantasmagoria to Babu’s triptych credit of director, producer, and writer which fully permits him to realise his artistic vision.
However, it is the potent display of talent amongst the cast and crew of the film that truly bolsters the density of Phantasmagoria. Vignesh Shanmugam’s portrayal of our confused protagonist particularly stands out as he realises the extent of his character’s psychological insecurity without resorting to the farcical. An equal highlight is Jeyan Raj’s masterfully jarring yet comprehensive editing which at once encapsulates Vignesh’s bewilderment whilst adding further difficulty for the film’s spectators. Furthermore, Aravind Raghunath’s experimental scores are exemplary of an innovative musical mind that can fully adapt itself to the needs of the image.
Although these examples are far from exhaustive, the intention here is not to belittle the agency of Babu’s artistry by attributing his achievements to others. After all, the responsibility of the director is to utilise these areas to make good cinema. Rather, the objective is to commend Babu’s mature understanding as a filmmaker in which he has selected superlative talents in all stages of production to fully realise the potential of Phantasmagoria. Upon a second viewing of his work, it is undeniable that he has accomplished this.