THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Six
CHAPTER 6: A SILENT WATCHER
In the latter part of Despite the Gods we begin to get a sense that there is some one who might have had insight into the difficulties. There is a scene in which the star of Hisss, Mallika Sherawat, tells Lynch, who is busy putting final touches on a patch of mud on which we will see Nagin transform from a snake into a woman, that she doesn’t have to do menial work. Lynch responds that she does have to because otherwise it won’t be done either well or safely for Sherawat as a performer. At this point, Sherawat, who has been rather traditionally demure throughout the scenes in which she appears in the documentary, turns and yells at the crew about their lack of preparation for the scene. It’s an odd moment, but it begins to form a pattern with other moments in which we observe Lynch’s relationship to Sherawat.
When I asked Lynch whether, as a person who had worked with Menon before, Sherawat ever took Lynch aside and tried to help her to deal with an obviously deteriorating situation, Lynch said she had not; nevertheless, there is an interesting synergy between the two that suggests that Lynch inspired the actress to assert herself, and also to try to explain things to Lynch in a way that Lynch did not recognize. The most interesting of these “teaching moments” comes when the two are alone, talking about patriarchy in India, and both agree that women are severely repressed there, Lynch saying that she has never seen women so “squashed.” “Fuck society,” says Lynch. For her part, Sherawat says that she fights as hard as she can, but that there is a limit beyond which she knows it is useless to go. Lynch continues to endorse extreme resistance. Was Sherawat trying tactfully to school Lynch? Or just expressing her own opinion? Did Lynch miss an opportunity?
Lynch and Vozniak each told me separately that the production pressures were too relentless for there to be any time for thinking through events. Lynch and Sherawat certainly didn’t fully explore the differences between their attitudes towards India’s extreme sexism. Even more drastic consequences of the production pressures can be seen in the poignant scenes between Lynch and her daughter. There is one interchange in which when Menon accuses Lynch of being less mature than Sydney, Lynch becomes defensive and complains of all the “garbage” Sydney shovels at her. But for the most part, we see Lynch attempting to act as a buffer between Sydney and Menon, without having the time or energy to truly talk to her daughter about what she feels and what she’s experiencing. “If I say ‘no’ to you,” says Lynch to Sydney, “It’s because I need to be seen as a director.” She cuddles Sydney; praises her; and listens when she can find a moment to spare, to Sydney’s attempts to comfort her. Sydney melts Lynch’s heart and ours when she tells Lynch that her weight doesn’t matter; you make movies with what’s up here,” says the little girl, pointing at her mother’s head. “Did I do anything?” asks Sydney after one of Menon’s rants, and Lynch assures her that she has done nothing but good.
In the denouement of Despite the Gods, we see Lynch back in California, four years after the film was taken away from her. She is sadder but wiser, drawing with her fiancee, Jim Robbins, and with Sydney. Each is doing his/her artistic work, while a little pug dog they found in India plays with them. Says Lynch, “Hopefully everything you do is worth losing your shit over because you’re doing it and quite often you lose your shit while you’re doing it. Like love and doing dishes….I was very hurt for a long time. I used to dream of what the film could have been. Or would be. I think it’s impossible to make something and work so hard or passionately without waking and sleeping dreams about what it will be, should be, could be. I don’t really dream about it anymore.”
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