'Uncle Downstairs' by Justin Fernando - SIFF

Amidst Toaist offerings for the dead laid on the pavement outside the HDB void deck, is a tiny little plastic soldier perched on a mini platter meant for fruits. Its significance was never adequately explained though it served a narrative function later on. 'Uncle Downstairs' could be term we sometimes refer to 'familiar strangers' in our void decks. I used to have a '3rd-floor auntie'. So in the story, I guess it's what a restless little Indian boy calls an old Chinese man who is habitually seated beside the 'Mama' stall. ('Mama' store is a small shop in the void deck selling titbits and newspapers and is typcially run by an Indian, in this film, a Chinese auntie runs it). The film explores a playful relationship between the boy and the old man. The lady's role, though just a bridge or a supporting character, provides an interesting maternal counterpoint to the 2 'babies'.

The boy, on hearing the 'uncle' create whistles on the sweet wrapper, starts pestering him to impart some of his blowing skills. The 'uncle refuses' and the boy finds ways to jolt him out of his daytime stupor at the side of the 'mama shop'. What results is a little cat and mouse game that's
endearing, but predictably so. Actually, I was more arrested by the banter between the boy and the lady. She was grumpy and very much in an 'act-sy' way. It made her character very annoying. But at the same time, there was a wee moment when she loosened her defences against the boy and let her motherly instincts do the talking - she admonished him against eating too many sweets for fear of tooth decay. It humanised an otherwise flat character.

'Undle Downstairs' also had a surprising end that caught me off-guard, redeeming what was a pretty uneven film.

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