In After So Long, a queer Indian-American artist pays homage to their ancestry and roots in visual poetry that explores themes of identity, belonging and mental health. Set in Mumbai, the film, directed by Varsha Panikar, is inspired by vintage home-movie culture – creating a “contemplative and nostalgic vignette” of an artist’s spiritual journey from darkness towards light. The movie continually goes back to this theme as we follow the visible main character through voiceover recitation of the titular track – written by the artist, Simha, and Jae – that switches between Simha and their parents.
Overall, through its poetry and music, the film serves as a defiant meditation on cross border solidarity amongst queer South-Asian artists from India, the United States and Canada. The movie is a homage to roots and Simha’s collaborations with other queer South Asian artists, where India makes sense as the movie’s backdrop. It’s written in both English and Hindi, serving reflecting Simha’s lived experience as a queer BIPOC artist born in India and raised in the US.
Queer belonging and making sense of one’s origins in memories serve as prominent undertones in, following Simha’s journey in going as far as one can to find themself. The movie opens with a shot of a man looking at what appears to be a lake. We go through what seems like memories that one is reminiscing about, after so long. There is discussion around being in darkness in one’s room, almost trapped. It’s a detailed look at one’s mental health, evident from the lines: “Awake at 10:00 am, but out of bed at noon, I wanna be here where I lose myself into these sheets,” “the air tickles the soles of my feet, but the voices are so loud,” and “I’m swept into lucidity”. There is no romanticisation of mental health. There is just a vivid description that feels relatable and peculiar at other times.
After the English verses, the Hindi verses refer to meeting someone after years, even when you don’t have any address. But what if one starts taking a walk down the memory lane; there is a sense that an address is unnecessary, that collective experience and the trace of something is enough. The idea of retracing footsteps, and perhaps finally belonging somewhere, is visible through lines like, “Through the twists and turns of these winding roads, I must keep going on, I wish to meet them today after so long.”
The main character retraces their footsteps through to broken, abandoned cement walls where vines and moss now grow, giving a sense of rebirth where once there was life and then death. A reference to nature’s resilience is a direct reference to the nature of personal growth. The poetry that follows adds more colour, as it sets the opening for a way out, towards light. Even after finding that all that made our identity has been replaced or is unknown to us, the movie reflects that going forward on that path will bring the past and present, current generation and older generation together again. Through Simha’s and their parents’ respective verses, we go through a different perspective each time – we get to see how they perceive old memories stuck in time, how they visualise and what objects or parts of nature they focus on. We understand what connects them to each other, and what it means for them to keep walking until they find that shared belonging again.
The music is sublime and immersed within the mesmerising visuals and poetry. There are certain feelings the movie evokes that left me ineffable. The film truly serves as a homage to Indian ancestry for an artist born in India but raised in the US. There’s an aesthetic to the visual scenes through fabulous cinematography, which will be instantly recognisable for anyone who has grown up in India and the kind of connections they feel to specific spaces. These connections are also peculiarly visible through the lovely poetry, especially those in Hindi. They’re reminiscent of poetry from Slyvia Plath and Amrita Pritam’s Main Tenu Phir Milangi.
The short is a refreshing meditation around identity, mental health, memories, and belonging through three distinct yet similar perspectives woven inextricably into a single story.