Director: Chintan Sarda
Cast: Jackie Shroff, Machindra Gadkar, Sahil Vaid, Lekh Tandon
The most remarkable thing about Chintan Sarda’s 21-minute short, Shunyata, is its completeness. The “void” looks whole. I feel like I’ve seen a lot – and sensed an entire life and full-blooded sub-culture and dimension of a city – in its limited duration. And yet, this is an intimate story. The entire film is shot at night. The quiet score, too, sounds like one that wouldn’t occupy a world of daylight. This suggests the mindscape of a jaded Mumbai gangster (Jackie Shroff, as Madhur) far more than is depicted. It suggests every dramatic and tragic backstory possible, without getting into the mechanics of it.
He sees better in the dark. Even as a hired killer, he has begun to see more than just blind targets. He now sees humans inside them – those with children, families and responsibilities. He has begun to acquire the illness of empathy. As have we, for a machine gradually turning into a damaged man who lives with the ghosts of the many households he has ruined. But he is too programmed to simply retire. He needs a purpose.
The hitman-with-a-conscience template isn’t unfamiliar but Shroff’s tired body language and inherent street smartness is startlingly effective in context of this film’s local gaze.
Most satiated adults invariably identify with the innocence of children to rescue themselves. Not just in the movies. We often identify them as a device to turn back time and unmake our mistakes. It becomes a chance to remake our own film, but this time as a director instead of the star.
Similarly, when Madhur speaks to Tinu (an outstanding Machindra Gadkar), the hotheaded tea-selling kid and part-time drug dealer, it feels like he is speaking to his own teenaged self – mentoring, advising, observing, bantering and protecting. Their friendship is filmy, but likely. And understandable.
The kid wants to find and murder the man who killed his mother, but Madhur wants him to become the boy that never pulled the trigger. Madhur wants him to turn into the man he never became. He sees in the boy more than just a way out. He sees goodness, the kind that was snuffed out from his own life too early.
There’s a scene with his old, bitter father that exists solely to explain to us his regrets and state of mind (“Why didn’t you make me a lawyer or bank manager instead?”); this kind of exposition isn’t needed, given that Madhur’s withering “form” and mood is everything we need to know.
The hitman-with-a-conscience template isn’t unfamiliar – look no further than some brooding turns by Denzel Washington, Al Pacino, Shah Rukh Khan (a similar graph in Aśoka) or even John Abraham (in Rocky Handsome) – but Shroff’s tired body language and inherent street smartness is startlingly effective in context of this film’s local gaze.
One can believe that he is cold-blooded by practice, and that the warmth he had suppressed for so long surfaces only at the sight of the boy. Simultaneously, he looks irredeemable – an unforgivable product embodying the worst of India’s teeming metropolis.
That we end up looking at Madhur as a victim, even as he goes to bury some more, is a testament to the type of filmmaking that makes a micro-section of a person’s life appear as the defining portrait of his existence. When he passes and stands between the gates of heaven and hell, you’d imagine this “phase” of his to be used as a representative screener to decide on his fate. Because, despite its length, Shunyata is moving in a full-length feature sort of way. It has pauses, silences, time and reflection, much like the protagonist it accommodates.
Watch Shunyata here: