Friendless With Benefits – Butnama Short Film Review

Author Annie Zaidi’s short film Butnama is a melancholic and twisted tale about a lonely lingerie salesman in Mumbai

Director: Annie Zaidi

Cast: Mukul Chadda, Rati Tripathi, Ram Menon

Rating: 3 stars

A few minutes into Butnama, Rinku (Mukul Chadda), a lonely lingerie salesman, begins to have a series of one-sided conversations with befuddled strangers. He narrates to them his life story, irrespective of whether they are listening. Rinku informs one of them – an unfortunate street-food vendor – about how he had worked in Saudi Arabia for a while. How there’s no life there after work, and how ladies aren’t allowed to step out and socialize. These lines are what scriptwriters would slot into the “backstory” section for their characters.

The Saudi stint explains, to an extent, why Rinku, now in Mumbai, is such an unhinged loner. Why he is so socially inept. And why he craves for real human company. Or even why he sleeps with a mannequin from his store at night – and even bickers with her (it), before tenderly dressing it up every morning.

As the maker, it’s easy to get carried away with – and overcook – this psychotic trait. The routine option is dark and depraved, which would have been interesting, given actor Mukul Chadda’s unassuming and sincere face. There’s an inherent niceness about him, which is why something untowardly like this attains the kind of unexpected jolt Deepti Naval imparts in NH10. Or even the kind of jolt actor Pramod Pathak delivers as an everyday guy craving for intimacy in a short film called A Lonely Man (2012).

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Lead actor Mukul Chaddha, who has an unassuming and since presence, plays a lonely lingerie salesman craving for company

The other option, of course, is melancholic and wistful – on the lines of Ryan Gosling’s delusional relationship with a lifelike doll in Lars and the Real Girl. The path director Annie Zaidi chooses, instead, is a mix of the two.

The twisted part strangely occurs not from Rinku, but his only ‘friend,’ a shifty-looking security guard named Bishnu (Ram Menon). His is an uncomfortable presence, the sort of company poor old Rinku deserves less of. The film meanders a bit here, what with him using his questionable understanding of gender dynamics to get Rinku a real ‘lady’ friend.

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The scenes instead between a curious customer (Rati Tripathi) and Rinku make for a more tonally consistent offshoot to his loneliness. It remains a conventionally wistful equation, one you’d imagine someone like Rinku to be nervous about. One genuinely feels sorry for the man while he tries to sell a set to her – not because he is being a pushy shopkeeper, but perhaps because he is only trying to create, and extend, their time together.

In a way, he lives an entire relationship through this three-act transaction; the chatty first meeting, followed by (absurd) betrayal, and a close-up of her fingers in the end, making it attain the spirit of an invisible doomed triangle.

Miss Zaidi has long been a well-known novelist and writer. I personally haven’t read any of her stories yet, but her dabbling in short filmmaking – in visual expression – has been of keen interest to me.

Miss Zaidi has long been a well-known novelist and writer. I personally haven’t read any of her stories yet, but her dabbling in short filmmaking – in visual expression – has been of keen interest to me. An early film called Ek Red Color Ki Love Story (2012), in which she gives urban isolation a completely faceless and lyrical landscape, remained with me. Ironically, after this one, it’ll be films that lead me to her literature instead of the other way around.

 

Watch Butnama here

 

 

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