classic film

Five-star cinema: A Turkish triptych in ‘Egg’, ‘Milk’ and ‘Honey’

Semih Kaplanoglu’s trilogy is an intimate and moving set of films on one man’s journey from adulthood back to childhood.

The quotidian nature of Semih Kaplanoglu’s Yusuf trilogy is evident from the titles of the films. Yumurta (Egg), Sut (Milk), and Bal (Honey) refer to everyday sources of nourishment. For Yusuf, the trilogy’s central character, each of these breakfast staples is fodder for Proustian memory jabs. In Yumurta (2007), Yusuf is reminded of his younger self when he sees a young boy sell milk and collect eggs from the household’s coop. In Sut (2008), Yusuf works as a milk seller, going from household to household to support his single mother even as he dreams of becoming a poet. Bal (2010) explores the love and regard between Yusuf and his father and the profound effect of the father’s death on the boy. Yusuf’s inexplicable collapse in Yumurta when he sees a man braid rope, and his growing alienation from his widowed mother in Sut, have their roots in the events of Bal.

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The trailer of ‘Bal’.

Our understanding of Yusuf’s emotional evolution takes place in reverse if we watch the movies the way the director intended. Unlike most such triptychs, including Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (which Kaplanoglu has acknowledged as an influence), the Yusuf trilogy unfolds in reverse chronology in keeping with its leimotif of the unshakable hold of the past over the present. It is entirely possible to begin with Bal, the most well-known of the trilogy, especially since it bagged Kaplanoglu the highest honour at the Berlin Film Festival in 2010 and announced him as a major name in Turkish arthouse cinema alongside Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Reha Erdem.

A still from ‘Bal’.
A still from ‘Bal’.

Bal is the richest of the films, moving even further away from dialogue and exposition than the previous entries, and relying on image, sound and observation to convey meaning. Kaplanoglu never hobbles his screenplays with the crutches of words, and instead invites us into Yusuf’s intimately felt world by trusting our ability to understand its nuances.

Each title begins with a pre-credits sequence that has the quality of a dream and summarises the movie’s themes. In Yumurta, a woman walks towards the camera from a distance, then walks away and finally merges with the tree-lined horizon. She is Yusuf’s mother Zahra, and her death brings the poet and bookseller (Nejat Isler) from Istanbul back to his home in Tire.

Every one of Yusuf’s encounters in Tire, especially with his distant relative Ayla (Saadet Aksoy), who has been caring for his mother, compels him to take stock of how far he has physically and emotionally travelled from home. Characters from Sut show up as more grizzled versions of themselves in Yumurta. The roots of Yusuf’s character are sunk deep into the earth, and they poke out of the soil to trip him up every now and then.

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The trailer of ‘Yumurta’.

Two scenes demonstrate Kaplanoglu’s masterful ability to suggest rather than spell out. The camera rests on Ayla’s neck and stays there, producing more than a pretty frame. The point of view is of Yusuf’s, who suddenly realises that he has developed feelings for her.

In another sequence, Yusuf and Ayla separately attend a wedding celebration. From opposite ends of the room, they look at the dancing couples and then find each other through the crowds. The apparent simplicity of these shots and reverse shots masks their narrative complexity.

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The trailer of ‘Sut’.

Sut provides more clues to some of Yusuf’s reactions in Yumurta. The story goes back in time to when Yusuf (Melih Selcuk) is a listless young man, helping out his widowed mother with their milk supply business but writing poetry on the side and dreaming of a future that will take him away from his village. Development has arrived in the form of machines that are stripping the countryside of its natural bounty, and Yusuf’s limited choices are between a life in the military and on a construction site. Meanwhile, his mother Zahra (Basak Koklukaya) is embarking on a bold affair with a widower, throwing Yusuf’s life into further disarray.

Zahra in ‘Sut’.
Zahra in ‘Sut’.

Each film underscores the beauty of the Turkish countryside – Bal is particularly ravishing – and the near mystical part played by animals and birds in the destinies of humans. In Yumurta, an encounter with a dog proves fateful; in Sut, Zahra’s fear of snakes is portentous; in Bal, a pet falcon shows little Yusuf the way to school every day. The shy, sensitive and inward-looking child¸ terrifically portrayed by Bora Altas, badly wants to win the prized red badge that his teacher hands out to deserving students during reading sessions. Yusuf stumbles over his words, and his near-silent relationship with his surroundings and his stoic yet loving father form the fulcrum of his existence. When his father dies, Yusuf’s world quietly crumbles, and the scars on his heart can be understood only by going back to the movie that inaugurates the trilogy.

A still from ‘Yumurta’.
A still from ‘Yumurta’.

Love, friendship, death, hope, disappointment, dreams and nightmares – Kaplanoglu packs these universal experiences into stories that reflect a highly localised Turkish culture. By reversing the journey of three key stages in a man’s life, and presenting the resolution of the tensions between the generations, village and city, and past and present before revealing the obstacles along the way, Kaplanoglu flips the coming-of-age trope in cinema. When we first meet Yusuf, he is already formed, and when we finally leave him, he is a little boy lost in the woods, still innocent to all that life has in store for him.

A still from ‘Bal’.
A still from ‘Bal’.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.