Published online on Feb 04, 2018
Baa’s House (2015) features Patel as Spiderman, with grandmother Laxmiben
” We latch on to our heroes for different reasons. I have always been a big fan of Bruce Lee. For me, Bruce Lee is a skinny Asian hero and, as a kid, I hated being skinny – it wasn’t cool at all. I grew up in a white neighbourhood, and then there is this hero who is not white and is kicking everyone’s a**. Everyone wants to be him, even the white kids,” says Hetain Patel.
We have been watching Patel’s film, Don’t Look at the Finger (2017), at gallery Chatterjee and Lal in Colaba. With a couple of hours to go for the opening, when the space will be packed to the rafters with visitors at the ongoing Mumbai Gallery Weekend, we are at a relative advantage. The cinematic scores that accompany this film, and The Jump, another work by Patel, fill the gallery in a dramatic Hollywood moment. The title, Don’t Look at the Finger, will be one that Bruce Lee afficionados will be able to pick on quickly. After all, it was the great actor, the trailblazer for a whole generation that took to martial arts as a form of hobby, who commanded: Don’t think. Feel.
That may well be the case as you watch the film. A single channel work that is 16-minutes-long, Don’t Look at the Finger features an all-black cast dressed in what seems like traditional West African attire. A bride walks into a hall, most likely a church, where her groom waits. The cult scene, one that we have repeatedly consumed from Hollywood, is familiar, but is quickly upturned when the minister uses sign language to communicate with the to-be couple.
And it’s not just her; the families and the couple also communicate with each other through gestures. So, you think, perhaps feeling a little self-congratulatory, this should be interesting – an entire wedding ceremony that takes place in sign language. Just as you prepare yourself, the groom and the bride start combating each other, the way Bruce Lee did, and the way The Matrix series did it again. An arm outstretched, the bride challenges the groom with the iconic hand gesture: Bring it on. The marital has just met the martial – like it does in life, at times.
No, you cannot get comfortable when it’s a film by Patel. He just won’t let you. He describes Don’t Look at the Finger, commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella with Manchester Art Gallery and QUAD, as “an African Kung Fu film”. “I wanted to see how to bring all these elements that are usually considered exotic – a West African family, sign language, and East Asian martial arts – and lace them with a mode we all recognise – Hollywood. This means epic music, cinematography and choreography. I wanted to create a world where supposedly disparate elements make sense together,” he says.
For that matter, the church, an actual space in London, became a nightclub in its next avatar, and will soon become a performance space. The printed tunics and dresses that the actors don, which we will easily identify with an African tribe, are actually Dutch wax prints. Yet, these diverse elements are seamlessly married together in the film. ”
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