When a short film opens with a quote from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, it can be safely assumed that what will follow will be sexually explicit, disturbing, and not safe to be viewed in the office.
In Shailaja Padindala’s short film Memories of a Machine, an unnamed woman is lolling about on her bed and being taped by her husband as she talks about her first sexual experience. It happened to be with her school peon, she was eight years old at the time, and she enjoyed the experience. The woman describes the memory in graphic detail, and reveals that the incident sparked off a love for masturbation that ended only with marriage to the man wielding the camera, which never leaves her face.
The film is fiction, and the woman is played by Kani Kusruti, the Malayali actress who has appeared in the 2009 film Kerala Cafe and plays and television soaps. Does the film condone paedophilia and the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children by adults? Is the filmmaker trying to spark off a debate on the complex nature of sexual awakening? Is Memories of a Machine an example of or a satire about voyeurism?
Writer and journalist NS Madhavan thinks that YouTube should take down the film since “it pardons paedophelia” and is not transgressive as much as needlessly provocative.
Padindala has recorded a separate video in which she argues that the film is clearly a work of fiction that is drawn from real-life experiences. “I do not encourage child abuse or paedophilia,” she says, adding that she is not interested in taking a “right or wrong moral stance” and wants to create art that is “brutally honest”. Her next film is about the martial art kalaripayattu, Padindala adds, and will again stars Kusuruti.