DEFINITION PLEASE: A Layered Depiction of Family, Freedom and Mental Illness

Human emotions and experiences are at the core of filmmaking. The imitation of life brings about a catharsis for viewers, introducing them to perspectives other than their own and presenting an opportunity to see themselves, wiping away the vacuous void of loneliness. Definition Please, from writer and director Sujata Day, is one of these films where viewers will transcend the boundaries of culture and see themselves in the characters and in their emotions. Definition Please follows a young woman struggling with understanding not only what she wants out of life, but what she wants from her family structure, she is satisfied with caring for her mother and staying in the town she is born, yet she longs for more, reconciling herself to what she already has.

Definition Please is a story of learning to let go, the definition of letting go multifaceted, giving the film its many layers for viewers to peel back. Letting go of preconceived notions of the past, letting go of our own perceptions of self, letting go of what tethers you to the now, and letting go of fear – just to name a few. And while the film focused on Monica’s (Sujata Day) journey of self-discovery and freedom, it does not leave those around her to the wind, giving the film deeply rooted layers for viewers to peel back one scene and one character at a time.

Diegesis: D-i-e-g-e-s-i-s. A narrative or plot, typical in a movie

Definition Please opens with young Monica claiming victory at the Spelling Bee National Championship. In a whirlwind victory that follows, she seems ready to claim her future. Within these first few moments, Monica is pegged as a precocious young little girl, pragmatic and dedicated. This introduction of her as a child sets a foundation of the elements of character one develops young and builds on as they grow older. It is important because as we flash-forward to Monica in present-day, grown-up and looking ahead to potential job opportunities, both of these are still deeply infused in her life.

DEFINITION PLEASE: A Layered Depiction of Family, Freedom and Mental Illness
source: June Street Productions

In her future, she is still living at home, caring for her mother, and standing at the precipice of her future. She must decide whether to let the past go or move on from what she has always known. In this moment, she could be determining the course of the rest of her life. If this wasn’t enough to grapple with, the sudden arrival of her estranged brother only further complicates matters. As brother and sister struggle to reconnect, hard truths are revealed for both, many that can no longer be pushed to the side and dealt with at another time. Reckoning and reconciliation may be their only salvation.

Ménage: M-e-n-a-g-e. The members of a household

Definition Please is a film about emotions – and what an array it is able to touch upon. You are immediately introduced to Monica’s mother Jaya (Anna Khaja), whose love for her children is undeniable, yet her diction of what should be and shouldn’t an overarching expectation. And never mind the overbearing nature, the guilt that is imposed on both siblings by making them a cause for her ailing health speaks not only to their relationships now, but also to the past. There is an importance, not only culturally and emotionally, of showcasing the mother this way, but also for character development purposes as the film continues on.

Thus far we know Monica is pragmatic and dedicated. In the present day, we see where much of that dedication is ingrained – the dedication to family. She is expected to behave a certain way and to be there for her mother and her family. Furthermore, as Monica tutors her students, you see her attempt to make amends for her childhood through the treatment of her students. When parents are overbearing, coming down hard on every mistake, and setting unimaginable expectations to meet, Monica is driven to be a moment of reprieve.

DEFINITION PLEASE: A Layered Depiction of Family, Freedom and Mental Illness
source: June Street Production

With the introduction of Sonny (or “Dada,” as he is referred to sometimes in the film), played by Ritesh Rajan, he further draws out the layers of Monica, all while allowing the film to stretch out and encompass more elements of family life. You see the distrust Monica has for her brother, the inability to connect, and let him in. Viewers are not immediately enlightened as to why, but there is an invisible ghost that always seems to stand next to Sonny, just out of view of the camera.

Sibling rivalry is tackled, all while dealing with the emotions that come with the persecution that one child was treated differently than the others. Definition Please draws the line of reckoning for these characters, one where they not only have to acknowledge what they have denied about themselves, but also what has been done as a family. There are deep fissures that may never truly heal, but it is the acknowledgment they are there that makes the process of healing possible.

Eloquent: E-l-o-q-u-e-n-t. Fluent or persuasive in speaking or writing

One of the most interesting technical elements of the Definition Please is the film’s nod to the pragmatic nature of Monica through the use of spelling bee words to describe moments, people, and emotions. The word is spoken, spelled, and defined, giving viewers a spelling bee feel all while giving viewers a different look into how others may perceive the world.

DEFINITION PLEASE: A Layered Depiction of Family, Freedom and Mental Illness
source: June Street Productions

Sujata Day brings a deeply grounded performance in her take as Monica. She is delicate, yet she has the power to change the world in her hands. Everything she does is with a gentle touch, afraid to displease those around her and afraid to push too far. There is also an innocence at play in Day’s movements, responses, and interactions that could be chalked up to her lack of exposure beyond her childhood confinements, yet as the film continues, cleverly crafting reveals as she goes, it is the innocence of childhood that is truly binding her.

Ritesh Rajan emulates the big brother status, all while maintaining flickers of a broken nature within. Rajan brings energy to his performance, giving Sonny a vivacious spirit that contradicts all the tidbits of negativity that surrounds him. Rajan further brings a depth of character as the film begins to reveal more, building a nuanced and deep portrayal of suffering and longing. And the chemistry he is able to produce with Day, you would think they were brother and sister in real life.

Conclusion: C-o-n-c-l-u-s-i-o-n. The end

Definition Please is a film that from start to finish exhibits our need to cast more diversity. This is a story that can be told no matter the ethnicity or culture, proving that the fixation on white casting needs to change. The film’s inclusion of culture only heightens the need for audiences to be given more in the films Hollywood provides. There are stories to be told, and new perspectives to encapsulate.

Yet it is not only diversity the film tackles, mental health becoming a focal point of the film. Definition, Please balances each element of the mental health aspects it tackles with perfection, lending itself to views on the importance of medications all while maintaining the continued importance of conversation. It acknowledges that while medications can help us find a balance, it is only a band-aid until the root of the issue is discovered and discussed. We must share our thoughts, fears, and anger, to truly understand and to truly move forward.

Definition Please is a film that drives deep into the heart of family, peeling back both the good and the ugly to obtain a complete picture, striving to make its characters whole. Coupled with a push for diversity, Definition, Please is a film you don’t want to miss.

What do you think? Does Sujata Day have an intriguing subject for her directorial debut?

Definition Please will be released in theaters in the US on October 24, 2020.

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