Director: Jyoti Kapur Das
Cast: Divya Dutta, Bhuvan Bam
On Republic Day 2017, a short docudrama named Dada – The Warrior Spirit spread like wildfire on YouTube. At the behest of the Indian Army’s Additional Directorate General of Public Information (ADGPI), the film had presented the story of posthumous Ashok Chakra awardee Havildar Hangpan Dada, a heroic Assam Regiment soldier from Borduria, Arunachal Pradesh, who was felled while defending his unit during a militant attack in Kashmir. Part-recreation, part-reminiscence, the film, though simple to a fault on a technical level, succeeded because it internalized the clear-minded integrity (the makers travelled to the remote village) and values of the institution it so sincerely represented.
To be honest, I only recently learned of the film. One of its three makers, Somesh Saha, off-handedly made me watch it on his computer. At the end of its 12-odd minutes, I was strangely moved by Saha’s passion for his subject. The project for him, a young man from an army family, had transcended the medium of filmmaking. It had become a feeling – one that I distinctly sensed when the rousing regimental anthem ‘Badluram ka badan’ concluded the heartfelt story.
The interesting part about Plus Minus is that it remains effective despite being preachy. Unlike other films, its morality is built into its DNA and arrangement.
More importantly, I felt ignorant. Not just as a civilian disconnected from this culture, but as part of an over-smart social media generation whose cynicism about PSA-style narratives finds root in the glut of “but our soldiers are fighting at border” jokes.
It’s this subconscious entitlement and ignorance that Jyoti Kapur Das’ Plus Minus – an 18-minute short starring Divya Dutta and internet sensation Bhuvan Bam – gently chides. Plus Minus, too, wields its simplicity as a weapon. Centered upon a conversation between a crabby Punjabi lady and a young soldier on a late-night train to Kapurthala, the film employs its medium as a guise to deliver a broader comment on the country’s skewed interpretation of patriotism. It cleverly combines folklore and pop psychology in an attempt to both judge and inform its viewers. Though it might appear predictable on a storytelling level, it is suitably humble on a humane level.
The chat, for the first eight minutes, is curiously inelegant – in that it becomes clear one of them is playing a character. Maybe if it were constructed better – Das last directed the excellently written Chutney, otherwise known as the most viewed Indian short film of all time – we might have been a little more attentive toward the faces rather than the performances. Dutta essentially plays the viewer, which is why it might have perhaps served the film better if her situation wasn’t “designed” so obviously. In hindsight, once the film’s intentions are revealed, this lack of naturalism somewhat makes sense. And given the uncomplicated sensibilities a film like this – or Dada, for that matter – targets, maybe the language is best kept sparse. And, well, respectful.
The interesting part about Plus Minus is that it remains effective despite being preachy. Unlike other films, its morality is built into its DNA and arrangement. What’s more remarkable is our potential reaction to this little story. If we go straight to Wikipedia to verify the legend on which Plus Minus is based, it means that the film – which might have remained a fictitious drama in our head until its final moments – has succeeded in critiquing us. If not, there is perhaps no way someone familiar with its hero won’t feel the way the filmmakers of Dada once did. A plus-plus scenario, if there was ever one.
I wonder what it says about me that the name Harbhajan Singh, far from the famous bowler, reminded me of a weird ‘superhero’ tale my late grandfather once narrated to me as a bedtime story. For the record, he was a Major in the Indian Army, and fought in the Sino-Indian war. I had asked if he knew the superhero personally. And yet, I still logged onto Wikipedia.