Director: Varun Tandon
Cast: Himanshu Bhandari, Gopal Dutt, Sariika Singh, Suraj Bisht, Depal Singh Negi
It’s not often we see slow-moving, near-meditative short films; the medium demands a sort of compression that rarely ever allows time and space to overcome the narrative. Which is why, at some point in Varun Tandon’s 30-minute-long Syaahi, you want to shake the sleepy little “family” film out of its hill-station stupor. By the end, it’s clear that we also want to shake a failed writer (Gopal Dutt) – the stubborn, joyless father of the child protagonist (Himanshu Bhandari, as Vansh) – out of his all-consuming obsession. He emblemises the frustration we feel at the film and its surroundings. This makes for an odd harmony of tranquility.
In most stories, it’s kids who are stopped from following their passions. Here, it’s this man who can’t stop himself from doing so. He is so busy living in a fictional world of written pages and fictitious characters that he forgets to live in the universe that inspired him to create
We’re used to seeing cinematic authors consumed by self-sabotaging phases, often compromising their youth and mental health in pursuit of “professional dreaming”. This man, too, is one of them, except he isn’t romanticised or highlighted; he isn’t even the lead here. “You know his last three books haven’t been published,” Vansh’s mother warns him whenever he asks for a little money. They don’t look that hard off, but then we city slickers can only approximate the economics politics of drowsy mountain towns with “vacations”; we rarely know what it takes to exist there.
In most stories, it’s kids who are stopped from following their passions. Here, it’s this man who can’t stop himself from doing so. Like many before him, he is so busy living in a fictional world of written pages and fictitious characters that he forgets to live in the universe that inspired him to create. He insists that the discipline he has internalised should also be one that his family suffers through. He is still a quintessentially Indian, strict and grumpy dad, yet one who is distinctly idealistic. He has perhaps shifted his young family to the mountains in order to acquire the right spiritual and financial balance, at the cost of their exposure.
Vansh, of course, is too young to notice the irony of this subverted template. For Vansh, he is just another Bollywood Papa who refuses to pay for his school treks and picnics. Later in life, maybe Vansh will have seen the bigger picture: that of a man risking everything to be an artist.
The reason I find myself writing primarily about the father is because Vansh isn’t mature enough to navigate this situation. And we aren’t given enough to understand why a boy is being imprisoned by his father’s silence in a house that is supposed to be built on words. The filmmaker takes his time, letting us notice how the boy goes about trying to wake his parents up in the kind of environment that isn’t equipped to handle melodrama.
Though it isn’t easy to be engaged throughout its lazy length, Syaahi actually counts on the fact that we drift away a little. Because when we come back into Vansh’s tearful world, not much has changed – even if Tandon would like us to believe that one incident can be a catalyst. Then again, pure unpolluted air can do funny things these days.
Watch Syaahi here: