There’s more to Aayushi A. Shah’s A Domestic Disturbance than meets the eye. A hilarious sequence of a young woman chasing around a cockroach in her apartment, the film, much like Shah’s oeuvre, is at its deepest a meditation on independence.
The young woman in question, played by actress Laila Aleem, is a college student based in New York City. On a peaceful Sunday morning, she finds herself on a domestic mission to rid her shoebox apartment of an intruding cockroach. Living alone as she has been for years, she has learned to only depend on herself, to solve her own problems. Her pursuit of the roach and eventual successful killing of it become her statement of independence.
Make no mistake, upon watching the film, it’s hard to draw a parallel between the comedy of the sequence and the more meaningful depth of its message. For one, it’s the genre—it’s rare to achieve such nuance through comedy. But those of us familiar with the 25-year-old award-winning writer/filmmaker’s work know that nothing she creates is surface—each film comes from a deeply personal place, revolves around her insights about life, and the experiences she has had—so that we know to actively search for the underlying metaphor.
Aleem’s single-handed hunt for the cockroach is symbolic of her character’s lonely life, her triumph over the pest signaling the power of her independence, the strength in her loneliness. She’s a capable 21st-century woman who doesn’t need anyone—a persona of Shah herself. Each beat in Shah’s immaculate screenplay and her well-choreographed direction of Aleem, each camera movement on the part of cinematographer Kadar Gayle, hint at the metaphor.
Trust Aayushi A. Shah to find the profound in what someone else might dismiss as mere domesticity—and make a movie about it. But this is what makes Shah stand out among other millennial filmmakers of her generation: her conviction that life itself, without anything explosive or tragic, can be cinematic.
A Domestic Disturbance is available to watch for free on YouTube.