After Skool (dir. Leong Mei Hung); Ananthi (dir. Don Aravind); Father 父亲 (dir. Jonathan Chong); Shifting Feet (dir. Teow Yue Han) — ADM 26

While SINdie's regular policy is to give each film its own post, I've packaged together these four films, which span three languages (English, Mandarin, Tamil*), because they suggest a regrettable tendency for local filmmakers to receive their storytelling and scoring influences from charity show montages or social awareness ads.

Sure, After Skool, Shifting Feet, Father and Ananthi differ in the precision of their cinematography, editing and makeup, which are especially strong and steady in those last two films. But they're all prone to breaking out the "touching" melodies at key moments, and in all their stories, one character commits an unfeeling transgression against another, only to have a later turnaround scene that casts this character in a less stonyhearted light:

After Skool: A bunch of bullies beats a girl bloody (seriously, she's like marinara) for having an old auntie's photo in her pendant, only to have one of them soften after she picks up the fallen pendant, realising its significance as she sits by the unconscious girl's bedside**.

Shifting Feet: A guy pooh-poohs his girlfriend's dancing aspirations, only to join her in a waltz after her extended ballet scene (and boy, is it extended).

Father: A father beats his son with a coat hanger for dirtying his brand-new shirt, only for that son to discover him in the bathroom that night, hunched beside the toilet and washing the shirt by hand.

These three films, at least, insulate themselves from further criticism because the "disapproving" characters (the bully, the boyfriend, the father) haven't got much complexity to their reasons for lashing out at their victims. But I must single out Ananthi, unfortunately, because I think it shortchanges its "disapproving" character even while it tells us to be more understanding of people's needs.

In Ananthi, the young girl of the title feeds her invalid grandfather as he lies in a hospital bed. Ananthi's mother sits in the corridor outside the ward, answering a business call, and asks Ananthi not to interrupt. "You only think about your work!" accuses the girl, as though it is a crime to ask her to wait while one is tending to a call. The accusation comes out of nowhere, since the earlier establishing shots don't make it clear that this isn't a hospital, but some kind of old folks' home.

Later, Ananthi detours to her grandpa's ward after school and spirits him away to the beach. Her worried mother visits the same ward to look for her, and finds her father's photos from her childhood and flips ruefully through them. When her father and daughter return, she smiles and says, "Pa, let's go home." (Ananthi's father is never mentioned.) The implication is that even if you're a single mother working to support your young daughter and your invalid father, it isn't okay to commit that father to an elderly home, and your childhood photos will remind of this! Ananthi cites Yasmin Ahmad as an influence, which is telling, since her MCYS-commissioned Family invests its grasps for emotional meaning into red high heels, the way these films invest theirs into pendants, shirts, dance numbers and childhood photos. These are screenwriting crutches that stand in for truer, more heartfelt loves and memories, and I'd be happy to see indie films work harder to break away.

* Forgive me, and please let me know, if Ananthi is actually in some other language.
**I had to check with Li on this point, because I found nearly all the girls in the cast indistinguishable. Apologies if I'm wrong on the sympathetic character being one of the bullies, though my point on the over-sentimentality of the ending still applies.


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