Return of the Phantom Lady
The story revolves around one night in the life of a yesteryear Indian actress/ stuntwoman, loosely based on Mary Evans aka Fearless Nadia. In the early days of the talkie era, a shoot is in progress at a film set but the actress is grief stricken. The events in the story take place between the time of a shot being finished and another being set up. The actress is unaffected by the hustle and bustle around her as she is overcome by the monotony of her work and a strong sadness emerging from a lack of love in her life. She contemplates the misery of her life and is lost in her thoughts despite being at the centre of attention. She is perhaps waiting for an imaginary lover to rescue her from the tyranny of her routine. The story attempts to contrast the heroic nature of the roles she plays with the boredom and sadness of her life. She wanders around the set like a lost soul, often stopping to glance at the accessories (whip, rope, guns, etc) that contribute to her filmic image and have been constant companions in her cinema journey. These things, including the horses she rides, seem lifeless to her on that particular night.
The song ‘Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi’ (from the 1956 film Chori Chori) captures the heaviness of the atmosphere around the actress. It also highlights the agony of her longing for a love that is mysterious and distant. The film set is crowded and everyone is going about their duties in a frenetic pace, yet at the same time, she feels a profound emptiness in her life. The lyrics “ Aise mein bhi kyun bechain hain dil, jeevan main najane kya hain kami” (Why my heart is so restless, what do I lack in my life ) reflects her state. In the song, there is a constant tussle between budding desires and loneliness. This tussle highlights the actress’ emotional turbulence. The film ends on a note of hope where the actress’ gaze fixes on an image of a fake moon being carried by two extras.