Parked under Singapore Panorama are also films that are shot here by filmmakers based here, and The Outsiders is something quite apt for a filmmaker to share his experiences and that of others being here for the long haul but having to put up with some of the unpleasantness from xenophobia to having unfair tirades made against them. For locals, this would be an interesting perspective of having a mirror put up in front of us and you'd know if you've been guilty of one or more of the issues being brought up, but unless this film goes beyond its single screening at Sinema, it will hardly make a dent, judging by the walk outs and the vast majority that left immediately after the show ended instead of staying for the Q&A - perhaps they wanted to beat the F1 traffic on the highways leading home.
Whichever the case is, Madhav Mathur continues to wear multiple hats in his indie production, being the producer, cinematographer, writer, director and editor, dropping acting which he had already done in his debut feature The Insomniac. With The Outsiders he had crafted an ensemble cast of characters to tackle various issues faced in different strata of society, from the foreign construction worker who had to leave home and come here, engaged in physically strenuous and dangerous tasks that few locals would probably want to undertake, to those in the upper middle income group of having to live it up, swanky condo apartments with great views where a chill out almost always involves alcohol of some sorts, to even the locals who feel disfranchised by the system.
If there's change reflected in our society this year, it's how vocal some of us have become in voicing these concerns. These become material for this film to be made since it comes with a ready premise, and experience drawn upon by the filmmaker to craft what would be a commentary about the system here. Madhav Mathur couldn't have put it in a better way through the use of metaphors in a scene with a character talking about home bred rabbits being introduced to the wild ones, where the wild ones, indeed hungrier and more hard striving as someone had famously said, do some real damage to the home bred rabbits, who had also to contend with the carrots and sticks the experimenters subject them to. If a foreigner can tell it as it is since it's so obvious already from the outside, need we say more especially from within about the detrimental effects of the sudden influx of foreigners?
It's an ambitious film with the filmmaker scripting a number of characters to tackle, involving a pair of foreign construction workers who begin the film after a short Fake News Reporter segment, to talk about love in the city, where one tapers the wistful expectation of a hopeful other who's actively seeking the affections of anyone from the opposite sex. There's a gay couple whose life is put under strain when one of them loses his job and is aspiring to pursue his dream of becoming a photographer, an elderly man with an episode of getting accosted by a pesky misguided community building volunteer, a Russian exchange student who's here but finding difficulties in settling down, made worse when communications with her homeland is cut, and a Chinese father who's obviously heading toward a communications breakdown with his daughter, almost always coming across to her as a paternal nag that she can't get rid of.
While the filmmakers had ideas, translating it for the big screen needed some work. For starters, ADR sound was not up to scratch, at times getting dialogue out of sync with mouth movement - OK I am anal about such things - and with more resources perhaps they could have gone with sync sound. While Indian films, or at least those that I've watched, almost always have dialogues scripted by another party who has responsibility to ensure either the best lines get scripted, or they sound as natural as can be. Sadly it's neither here, with many characters having to deliver their lines as if they're memorizing them for the stage, with poor, rather rote delivery of lines rather than naturally speaking a language with emotion and feeling, but that perhaps boiled down to inexperienced actors. Real people don't talk like the characters do here.
Still, The Outsiders have its obvious moments which I believe nobody in a cosmopolitan society will quibble about, as the global village becomes real and competition for almost everything in all aspects of life remain keen. However, the characters here talk a lot but do nothing concrete about it, which sort of highlights the pitfalls for real world scenarios that we're in for trouble if we take too long to, as the Chinese saying goes, talk about soldiers on paper, instead of getting out there and actually doing something. This will be that lesson learnt.