Director: Pranav Bhasin
Cast: Nidhi Bisht, Ruhi Khan
When a film begins with introspective images about a character in a city, and a voiceover that reads like a sweet letter or diary, a seasoned watcher will always expect this: Things are not as they seem. There has to be a catch. One of a filmmaker’s favourite sleight-of-hand tricks in the shorter format is to present a situation, lull us into its texture, before using the audiovisual medium to execute a twist that completely inverts our perception of the story. More often than not, social-message shorts (and advertisements) employ this style to drive home a hard-hitting message. Twists can be gimmicky, but gimmicks are sometimes the best solution to engage a viewer in limited time.
Kanika, too, does this. And it does this better than most.
It begins with Nidhi Bisht, TVF writer and actress, seemingly enjoying an evening stroll at Bandra’s Carter Road promenade. This portion is cleverly designed. She observes an apartment, which we are led to believe is probably her childhood home. We see a memory or two. She walks (mind you, we only see her upper half here), it’s magic hour, things are dreamy, and her voice describes what we think is an experience with a lover; she is speaking to us, or maybe thinking about those times nostalgically. Again, the voiceover is scripted well. And then, midway through the short, we are hit with the reveal. The voice ends with a line (a school is mentioned) that immediately turns this into a disturbing, and necessary, story.
The scene switches to a sobering location, we see who Bisht really is, and the magnitude of the situation – as well as our systematically conditioned naivety – dawns upon us. We expected a trick, yes, but it’s hard not to admire the “prestige” of it. It’s at this moment you feel like scrolling back to the beginning of the film and looking for signs. The signs are there. It was, in fact, not a coming-of-age romance, but a horror movie all along. There are mentions of stolen glances, surreptitious bus rides, ambitions of marriage, ignorant parents, eloping, photographs…it was in the language. Simple, shy, almost childish. Suddenly, even the journeyman acoustic-guitar theme acquires a different context. The devil was always in the details.
Kanika is a sensitive, well-crafted film. But it is, more importantly, a prime example of how a film can be aesthetically derived from its purpose, especially in an era where the “message” often tends to hijack the medium. It tells us something old, something uncomfortable, in a way that forces us to recognize the importance of cinema just as much as the essence of the issue at hand. One cannot, should not, outweigh the other. Not on paper, at least. Kanika will tell you that.