Cannes 2023 Screening Notes: Kanu Behl’s Agra Gets Under Your Skin

In the film, a sparkling life is visible but it’s always just out of reach
Mohit Agarwal in Agra
Mohit Agarwal in Agra

Kanu Behl has only directed two features - Titli in 2014 and now Agra – but he has already established himself as one of our finest purveyors of lower-middle-class angst. He captures, with precision and poetry, the oppression and roiling anger of men and women who live on the fringes of contemporary urban India. Where a sparkling life is visible but it’s always just out of reach. Agra is about a young man, Guru, who lives in a cramped two-level house. He sleeps in the same bedroom as his mother. Upstairs, his father lives with his mistress. There is space on that upper-level for one more room, which becomes the point of contention. Each member wants it to fulfil his or her desire. Guru, who is sexually repressed, wants to build a room and live in it with his imaginary girlfriend.  

Agra is deeply disturbing – it begins with a close-up of a grilled animal. Kanu and co-writer Atika Chohan effectively create an atmosphere of hostility and dysfunction. There is one superbly creepy scene with a doctor who has been summoned to treat Guru who is becoming more and more unhinged. But soon after, the tension of the deep and abiding unhappiness of this family dissipates. The writing and pacing fumbles but the actors stay top-notch – newcomer Mohit Agarwal is a revelation as the traumatized Guru. Priyanka Bose, as the woman he eventually connects with, also delivers a performance with courage and quietude. And watch out for Rahul Roy, who is unrecognisable as the flailing father. Agra doesn’t consistently match the brutal brilliance of Kanu’s debut Titli but it’s a film that gets under your skin. 

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