"The Bengaluru-based director’s exceedingly sensitive film is about an Anglo Indian family that moves from Kolar to the big city and crumbles,”writes Bishweshwar.
The plight of a communityThe film focuses on the Anglo Indian Community. The community of British India is now a handful that gathers at community gatherings, school reunions and hockey matches. Their life is now paler, except for those who have migrated to the west or down-south to Australia. Yet, in this struggle for identity, they have held their pride, memories, and an optimism to overcome difficulties. This change is reflected in no other community, as in them. For they decided to stay not really knowing what the future had in store for them. Many experiments in Cinema have been attempted to document the lives of Anglo Indians. One major outpost is Calcutta where in Bow Barracks there have been numerous stellar endeavours. My personal favourite has been 36 Chowringhee Lane (Aparna Sen, 1981). Having lived my early years and studying in one of their institutions, I had Anglo Indian classmates. 36 is the film that poetically showed where the community stands in a majoritarian society. Labelling or stereotyping is standard practice of such societies. Kolar is a mining town 120 kilometers south of Bengaluru. What it unearthed set the course of journey for many Anglo Indian families. The Bharat Gold Mines as is known now, was once an Anglo Town. The managers, the owners, the inspectors lived an active social life post working hours living in pristine bungalows. The Anglo Indian community in Bengaluru has its roots dotting its way to Kolar. With the mines passing hands to government control, the Anglo Indians slowly started fading from the work force. Modern India’s modern masters preferred a workforce that was more coloured. The Anglo Indian stood as a sore thumb. The migration threw them to different parts of the world but the stigma they faced on their home turf followed them wherever they went.
Leslie’s OuthouseLeslie’s outhouse in The Outhouse is the Anglo Indian community. The story line is simple - a marriage that is failing to hold together amidst the pressure of family and the city life. But in this falling there are many fallings, uprising and also a portrait of a community that has its own trappings and escapes. The opening shot of the film is a Bird’s eye pan of Majestic, at that point a major terminal and point of disembarkment for migrants. With the city established, Leslie gets into the quaint neighbourhoods. Milton Street where the film is shot in a big bungalow with an outhouse was in many sense a very much an Anglo Indian neighbourhood in its heydays. Houses with name boards signing off as Bird, Parridge and Peacocks are still rare but not uncommon sight. In one such house or rather an outhouse Ben and Priscilla move in with baggage and kids. It makes a picture perfect site to have them around- almost foreign to admire, yet desi in mannerisms and lifestyle. There are no chandeliers hanging or candle lit dinners. There is just the daily drudgery of living and the cold comfort of married life. Priscilla is talented, but Ben is possessive and suspicious of Priscilla’s every move. He lives in a utopia of being the man of the house and in charge, when he is barely making a living. But his ego knows no bounds. Alcoholic, abusive and egoist, Ben then wreaks havoc on Priscilla. As Priscilla’s sister Clair rightly puts it in one scene, “What did you see in that asshole?” Priscilla and her sister are two extreme spectrum of the Anglo Indian community. Clair is all that Priscilla is not. She is rocking it in an advertising agency. She has multiple dates. She swears, smokes, drinks, is fiercely independent and is not scared to call a spade a spade. Her confidence is Ben’s insecurity. He fears one day Priscilla will follow her footsteps. Controlling her freedom is hence, the best safety net for his own existence. Always ranting, judging, and preaching, he is a man on the edge. Ben carries other deep rooted prejudices. Of being targeted at work for being an Anglo Indian. Of being made to do more work where perhaps the non-white gets away. This logic primarily comes from the fact that Anglo Indians, by virtue over their command on English, later pocketed many white collared jobs and in a globalised world. The did good in the service and other ancillary industries. Economic migration moved them from their roots to bigger cities where they felt exploited. Between Ben’s Tantrums, the needs of two young children and her ambition to stand on her own feet, the outhouse shelters Priscilla till she has to take a decision. It again comes to a moral cauldron where Priscilla has to decide her own path and in this she will just be a mother and an individual.
AwardsMade on a tight budget and shot on film by Cinematographer S.Ramachandra, music by the talented Gerard Machado with excellent acting by the main casts; Priscilla Corner playing Priscilla Morrow, Ratan Thakore Grant playing Ben Morrow and Judith Roby Grant playing Claire and equally good performances by the supporting cast Chippy Ganjee and Polie Sengupta, The Outhouse had a fair chance of winning in the 1998 International Film festival of India. A blurb from Outlook India on that year’s festival speaks on how close Leslie’s film was to getting the podium but missed it.
“This year, for instance, the organisers had a golden opportunity to push a promising first time Indian Director; the Bengaluru based Leslie Carvalho, under the competition spotlight. His exceedingly sensitive film, The Outhouse, about an Anglo Indian family that moves from Kolar to Bengaluru and crumbles under the pressures of big city existence, has attracted rare reviews and could well have been among the award winners at the 29th IFFI.”