5th Singapore Short Cuts - The New World by K Rajagopal

Screening The New World among the other shorts made it look a little out of place. It was structured to fit into the National Museum's Digital Homelands Project. I would imagine it would probably fit very well into the format of an interactive exhibit. It uses a pretty linear and informative narrative and even has a short update on the development plans on the old site of the New World.

This is the 4th time I have actually watched The New World since it had been available online since January. It is still playing. I watched it the first time because I was involved in it. The second I watched it was because I loved Jacintha's voice. The third time I watched was because I was feeling depressed and wanted to feel passionate again about life. So evidently, it has been a very good companion to my life in 2008. Coincidentally, it is funny that this companionship mirrors the storytelling in The New World - that a boy's love for The New World amusement park was intertwined with his love for his father. When one perished the other followed suit in a kind of parallel ending to the story.

To recount it, the story begins with a little boy who always yearned to go to The New World. Amusement rides aside, the focal point of attraction was always the cinema, self-referencing the filmmaker. This was where an experiment with surrealism pays off. Vintage photos of the New World, movie stars, movie sets are projected onto the white unform the boy was wearing, as if allowing us to see what the boy was marvelling about. Sitting beside him a fatherly figure stretches out his palm to hold the boy in a gesture of affection and protection. The icing on the cake is really the nostalgic sound design. Sound bites ranging from the 60s Shaw Brother's movie intros to cartoon effects transport me back in time instantaneously.

8 years later, repeating the same soft-focus tracked shot, we learn that the boy has grown up and is a fresh-looking curious young man. The same whiteness of the uniform conceals a heart that is ready to explore new territory. In the cinema, the darkness now takes on a different ambience, something more sensual. Coupled with the starting notes of Jacintha's `Moon River', I braced myself for the magic moment again. While I will always remember at how the dancer sways and swoon at the silhouetted kiss, I often forget that shooting this scene itself was also a moment to remember. Two strangers, Kathryn and Benjamin, turned up on Saturday afternoon, and were given little time to improvise the scene. While Benjamin is a look of virility, he is apparently young and unexposed. Kathryn was professional enough to take the lead although she seemed too practised for the role. Then under the glare of the redheads, they danced like there was no one watching. While I sat behind the tracks blocked from full view, I could still see Benjamin's giggles and unassured mannerisms amidst the swaying feather boas. But in a kind of serendipitous way, his tears (which I heard from Raja) were hidden from my view, only to be revealed a month later in the final video.

The boy's trips to the cinema did not end with losing his innocence. Like reading a book of life, he wanted to watch on. In a kind of circular fashion, the sound bites have run the whole gamut of genres like comedy, horror, adventure etc. missing only one that was reserved for the final moment - tragedy. Excerpts from a Hindi movie are juxtaposed over the boy's watery eyes as he watches on. In the next moment, his father's death is signalled, marking the last chapter of the film. Interestingly in my interpretation, not all was lost with the father's death. The New World may have been reduced to debris but one thing remained everpresent - cinema.
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