Escaping the Racist Escape Room Paradigm

In lieu of a kids’ Halloween party this year due to the whole plague thing we decided to invite one family at a time to try their hands at our escape room, The Great Kohinoor Diamond Heist, throughout the month of October.  In case you’re not familiar with escape rooms, you’re not really locked in a room, it’s just pretend. In order to find the hidden object or “unlock” the door you have to solve a lot of puzzles and look for hidden clues. This one is set up in our dining room. Here’s how it came about.

Imagine if it were ‘Escape From Jehovah’s’ Witness Island’ or any other religion

My biracial son and I did our first escape room this summer. It was called Escape From Voodoo Island and the idea, as explained in the introductory video before you enter the room, is that some evil Haitians have kidnapped an ambasaddor’s daughter and are holding her captive on “Skull Island” which is full of evil voodoo practitioners. Your job is to crack the codes in their hideout in order to rescue the daughter.  We had a blast doing it but on the way home I told my son the storyline kind of bothered me and that if I were Haitian I might have been especially troubled by it. First off, voodoo isn’t evil,

House of Time

Kalkokkho
Kalkokkho, written and directed by Sarmistha Maiti & Rajdeep Paul

“Doomsday…Apocalypse…The End of the World…Earlier we used to see these only in foreign films. Apocalypse would happen only in their countries then, and a handsome male hero, just in the nick of time, would save everyone from impending doom. Though it had no relevance in our own lives, it was always great to witness it onscreen through the magic of movies. But in real life, Apocalypse is so boring, monotonous, like a slow-paced art-house film.”

This wry, meta-cinematic line of dialogue from Kalkokkho, or House of Time, the new feature film from Kolkata-based writer-director duo Sarmistha Maiti & Rajdeep Paul, aptly captures the mood many of us felt in the earliest days of last year’s nearly global Covid pandemic lockdown.  I remember falling into a black hole of depression for two weeks or so, lying on my sofa staring at the ceiling, feeling psychologically and spiritually immobilized; tied down, even.  Soon, however, I began to play the Glad Game, count my many blessings, untie myself and get off my self-absorbed butt.  I reminded myself that when the going gets weird, the weird get going.

Such is the arc of this riveting film, a slow burn of a psychospiritual thriller in which our protagonist, a doctor, is abducted by a frightened family of three women and quite literally tied down, a perfect metaphor for how many of us felt.  As the plot unfolds, the characters climb in and out of their own black holes.  The same day repeats itself. Their conversations recur. Is this Theatre of the Absurd or just the routinization of life under lockdown?  Is it the magical realism of Groundhog Day or the abnormal psychology of Melancholia?

The doctor, his family of female kidnappers — and the audience — can never be sure, and that’s part of the sad joy of this smart, beautifully crafted film with a mind-bending conclusion.  The colorfulness of India suddenly becomes a drab world. You’ll swear some of it was shot in black and white but it’s entirely in, well, living colorlessness. The set and costume design are brilliantly executed in this regard.  The increasingly grim news reports that the trapped characters all sit and hear throughout the film put me in the mind of the disturbing radio updates peppered throughout 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, one of the few American films where the dashing male hero fails to save the day, but in Kalkokkho the news reports are real.

As someone once said, I always know there’s truth in art when it troubles me.  Like a painting, Kalkokkho invites you spend time with it, study it, turn it over in your mind a few times, for great art is never easy, and rarely what it seems on the surface.

The official synopsis from the film’s press release:

Amidst a contagious pandemic an apathetic but adept doctor finds himself captive in a house inhabited by three women– a paranoid young woman, an amnesic old woman and a lonely young girl, gradually realizing that he might be trapped not only in space but also in time. The film explores the texture of time with a blend of magic realism and existential horror to express the sense of dread and temporal stasis generated universally by the Covid19 Pandemic. Through mythological allegory and spiritual subtext, it explores eternal themes like reality and illusion, instinct and morality, love, loneliness and grief, the power of stories, nature of the feminine and the masculine, and the discriminations of ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘they’ to tell a tale of “longing for belongingness” which is the biggest crisis of human existence now and forever…

Since the inception of cinema in India, with the legacy of producing and distributing Satyajit Ray’s “Jalsaghar”, “Aparajito” and also distributing Ray’s “Pather Panchali” and Ritwik Ghatak’s “Ajantrik” to name a few, Aurora Film Corporation has been the pillar of strength for supporting novel creative minds and enlightening the vision of noble cinema. The saga continues… (www.aurorafilmcorporation.com)

My Dinner With Tina

Why is this man making a hand-rabbit? Scroll down to find out.

If you missed my interview last night with the masterful Tina Brock of the IRC and would like to hear more about my mis/adventures in India, my work as a Fulbright Scholar and the nonfiction book I’m currently finishing, along with Tesla, ghosts, paan, religion, David Ives, and a few other surprises, you can catch it here on the IRC’s youtube channel: