How spacious is ‘The Booth’?

A Brief Study of Space and Desire in Rohin Raveendran’s The Booth

By Shreya Bhowmik

I found an island in your arms

Country in your eyes

Arms that chain us

Eyes that lie

Break on through to the other side

Jim Morrison

Rohin Raveendran Nair’s poetic short takes place over the span of a single day. It starts with Rekha, a female security guard at a Pune mall, getting ready for her shift. Having changed into her uniform, she sets up a frisking booth by the entrance. This apparently innocuous act, as we soon come to know, sets the theater for a kind of transgression and subversion that seems tragic and liberating in equal measure. In setting up the booth, Rekha sets up a prop that becomes a kind of heterotopia, an ambiguous space that juxtaposes several incompatibilities. And it is here that we meet Sargam, a young lady preparing for her banking exam. But beyond this ‘multi-place’ where their worlds gently collide, several spaces emerge making this short tale of desire a powerful investigation into the contradictions one gets caught up in. 

At one level the booth is indeed a claustrophobic space where two lovers, condemned by a homophobic society, are forced to contain their romance. The drawing of curtains and seeking of corners bring out the tragedy that underlines a hopeless modernity, the glimpses of which we also find in the cold and unrewarding concourse of the mall. However, on another level the booth contains an irony so profoundly compelling that it is funny. The idea that gender segregated spaces, done to police sexuality, can also provide the perfect set-up to subvert the same reveals the ignorant denial of a society that doesn’t dare to look beyond the curtain. Moreover, the booth also serves as a liminal space wherein someone like Rekha could also sniff out a potential partner to perhaps embark on another fleeting romance. We get a hint of this in the scene where Rekha’s frisking, that takes longer than needed, visibly discomforts another female shopper.

As a heterotopic space the booth is a site of disturbance, emancipation, contradiction and transformation. While it upsets what is outside—a sanitized, heteronormative utopia—it also mirrors the dynamics of the same. Gender aside, the performative aspects of Rekha and Sargam’s relationship is still imbued with the familiar traits of a heterosexual affair. This is perhaps what makes this fatal attraction surprisingly not shocking but boring—and thus universal. It is this very boredom that makes this tale the most rebellious. 

This rebellion starkly contrasts the submissive culture of the greater space of the mall where Sargam often loiters waiting for another chance to be at the frisking line. This commercial bubble of modernity lays bare several contradictions. Consider, for example, the hypersexualised images adorning the walls of the mall, which despite being billboards of desire, are still gendered in terms of their target audience. Or the host of an impromptu singing talent hunt who casually asks Sargam if she has a boyfriend. Amidst the host of international brands and imported cultures one assumes that the conservative cloak would seem too outdated. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case. There is still no place for people like Rekha and Sargam; their desire still needs the hush of the dark and heavy curtains of the booth. But though this booth appears to shrink in the vast and vacuous space of the mall—as seen from the CCTV footage—it is still just enough for two. 

Shreya Bhowmik currently resides in Kolkata and freelances as a content writer with various organisations.

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