Director: Sudeep Kanwal
Cast: Vipin Sharma, Sharib Hashmi, Ekta Sodhi, Mehnaaz Maan, Kanwarpal Singh, Veersimar Singh
A round of Russian Roulette in Sudeep Kanwal’s Dhund (The Fog) feels less like a thrilling game of fate and more like a desperate act of honour. It unfurls in Ferozepur, an old Punjabi town situated at the Indo-Pakistan border. It is 1958, a decade since the Partition, and ageing family patriarch Santokh Singh (Vipin Sharma), a grieving widower, engages his son Harmeet (Sharib Hashmi) with a pistol at the dead of night. The old man has the first drink of his life – “I hear this makes you brave,” he remarks. What he must really mean is this: Alcohol acts as a truth serum, and braveness is only a prerequisite to face the truth.
Harmeet, a man who drinks to drown his honesty, is frightened by his father’s sudden recklessness. He begins to understand the gravity of this moment once Santokh reveals that he found a damning letter – from the other side of the border – in his deceased wife’s cabinet. The film flashes back to a dramatic night in 1948, when the Singhs were secretly aiding a Muslim family on the eve of their escape to Pakistan. Skeletons tumble out of their proud Sikh closet, as Santokh Singh and his errant son sense the fog dissipate from around their memories of that day. What was just a personal tragedy – at least in context of its historical significance – turns into a cultural awakening: a private failing that effectively reflects the public horrors of the Partition. Notably, it’s the fate of two women that really jolt the foundations of Santokh Singh, a traditional man otherwise occupying a culture of ingrained misogyny.
Gunshots are the most important sounds of the film – the motion and background score are designed to work in sync so that the abrupt silences that follow the gunshots feel all the more louder.
Sudeep Kanwal does a fine job of making his film look like a doomed memory. At 24 minutes, it doesn’t feel as long, because the atmosphere of the setting writes the story instead of merely elevating it. He does go a bit overboard in the treatment: crucial flashback shots are needlessly slowed down to punctuate their significance. But I also understand the intent behind this exaggerated tone. Gunshots are the most important sounds of the film – the motion and background score are designed to work in sync so that the abrupt silences that follow the gunshots feel all the more louder.
The performances tide over these lapses. Vipin Sharma is terrific, virtually unrecognizable as the upright Sikh father caught in a whirlwind of inner conflict. Given that he has carved a fine career out of humanizing grey (side) characters, it says a lot about his versatility that the role of the shifty son is tailor-made for a younger Sharma. For Sharib Hashmi, playing a Muslim-hating Sikh lies at the opposite end of the spectrum occupied by his kidnapped character from Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan, in which he is helped by a Pakistani Muslim to escape back into India. Hashmi is suitably slippery here; his tendency to be over-expressive somewhat informs the pollutions of Dhund. After all, there’s nothing like a misty North Indian sky to overestimate the importance of a “mask”.