Abhay Mahajan plays a journalist in Trijya, who writes astrology columns ("Pisces — Who says you exist? Doubt your existence.") and archives the local politics of Pune for the readers. Lost, unhappy, meandering, like the film itself, he smiles only when he plays carrom or is buzzing drunk with his friend. When he doesn't have anyone to play carrom with, he plays against himself, moving from one edge of the boric powdered board to the other. He goes home to the village but remains in bed all day. His parents want to get him married. He cannot figure out what he wants. There is nothing he is running towards, nothing he wants to run towards. He wanders. He is caught by a TC in a train for not carrying a ticket. The TC asks him where is heading. He replies, "I went to a station, saw a train, got in." The TC fines him. He doesn't have money. He pays with his poetry.
Watching Trijya is like watching a Chaitanya Tamhane film for the first time. It's a pungent shock to the senses in a way that forces you to pay attention to the corners of a frame, the edges of a moment. Full of visual stillness and symmetry but also emotional turbulence and internal dislocation, it is the patient kind of filmmaking, one that allows its characters to walk from one point to another, without cutting into their stroll, abbreviating the slow, lulling movements. This is the kind of beauty that can move you to tears, and you won't even know why.
Not to say that the visual, visceral world of Trijya is derivative. Director Akshay Indikar, who enlists Yasujirō Ozu and Andrei Tarkovsky as his influences, insists on his own style, one that you cannot but notice — a sexual moan, a sharp cut, classical alaaps, the city from a distance, the sound of ghunghroos, a boom sound from a mouth timed to a firework blooming above the city, a forceful chopping of air by windmills. Unlike Tamhane's films, he isn't besotted with realism, and there is a restlessness in the narrative, each scene not leading to the next, but springboarding in odd directions. It is fantastical at times — fitting given that growing up, the director had wanted to be a magician — but this fantasy, which can be shady, silly, or stunning, is disorienting. It allows us to feel the rootless, dizzying, charmless existence with which the character is grappling. "I don't feel tranquil in my home, in my job, in my village. I am not at peace anywhere," he tells another man, a figment of his imagination who tells him to meditate under a peepal tree, like the Buddha, like the Pashupati seal from Harappa.
In Indikar's previous film, Sthalpuran screened at Berlinale 2020, a character notes, "The road to the school is more beautiful than the school." Trijya, a German-Indian co-production, shot by Indikar and Swapnil Shete, that premiered in Shanghai's Asian New Talent Award competition, is philosophically still stuck here — unintered in destinations or answers. It is cut into chapters with trite names like "roots" "aerial roots" "tree", but thankfully refuses to become mystical or instructive by offering solutions or even paths to a solution; happy to be swirling in the eddies of eternal ennui and indecisiveness.
There is a burgeoning sub-genre of storytelling — of lost youth, of the elusive search for home, of a generation that can only speak of roots, but never inhabit it. There is airbrushing, to be sure, the kind that comes with yearning. But the unease with the world is palpable. Shows like Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi complicate this idea of home as a space of effusive love but also cultural and moral stagnation. The recently-released Ghar Waapsi and B.E.Rojgaar both speak of roots as things one inevitably boomerangs towards, after being spat out by concrete cities like Bengaluru and Pune. One of the most affecting episodes of the verbose Little Things is when Kavya goes back to Nagpur to see her parents, measure the chasm between them, and swing on a rope from one end to the next. As James Baldwin wrote, "Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition," and each of these characters, like so many of us, are yearning for a place when it is, in fact, a feeling, a diseased yanking of the heart.
"Will an uprooted tree grow elsewhere?" a woman asks in Trijya, but her question is more literally existential. Her home will soon be swept away by a dam. It should make the journalist's woes seem small, intellectual, and exaggerated. He does, afterall, have a roof over his head, home as a physical space. But Trijya has no patience with such hierarchies, for soon after, the journalist ejects himself onto another journey, weary feet in search of, but perfectly content not finding home.
Trijya is streaming on MUBI.