In a pivotal scene in Dhuin, the protagonist Pankaj (Abhinav Jha), an aspiring actor, converses with a group of filmmakers from Mumbai. The scene is remarkably eloquent in the way it displays the rude elitism and condescension of people who supposedly are 'deeply connected' to the art (something reflected through multiple characters) and provides Pankaj enough clarity for a question to which he never really bothered to seek answers. It neatly sums up the kind of unfair power dynamics that exists wherever there is the ambition for better opportunities – privilege, talent, financial burden, family, everything has a say in such circumstances.
After Gamak Ghar, Achal Mishra returns with Dhuin, which portrays the simple story of a young man pursuing a successful career as an actor, albeit weighed down by the responsibility of looking after his ageing family and the lack of financial freedom. The movie begins by taking us to a street play in front of Darbhanga railway station, and we already know that the railways will play a crucial part in the story. Pankaj's unhappiness with his situation, wherein a talented actor like him must resort to participating in street plays and depend on the corporation for money, is quickly evident. Right from the beginning, the film gives off an aura that is quiet and bleak, capturing the unimportant and routine moments of the daily lives of the characters in the narrative.
Achal Mishra has used railways as an excellent, subtle parallel to what Pankaj is experiencing. In an otherwise calm movie, the noise of the trains adds the much necessary noise that perfectly supplements the emotion of the respective scenes. While his family expects him to study hard and land a job in the railways, he chooses to hone his acting skills from his room using YouTube tutorials, which are interrupted crudely by the trains running through the tracks behind his house. His love for cinema is unmistakable, as the colourful walls around him suggest. The intrusion is a perfect metaphor for his inability to choose his journey and career freely. The noises can be heard even during the quarrel between Pankaj and his father, who is struggling to support his family and is even searching for a job. The COVID-19 pandemic constantly looms as a culprit for their unfavourable situation, and even earns a couple of mentions.
In another example of how Mishra has used visual metaphors to demonstrate Pankaj's situation, he climbs on a tree near the airport and looks at the airplanes flying over him – obviously depicting his dreams of going to Mumbai and his hopes of making it big.
Pankaj resents being treated without enough respect among the actors' group he is a part of. He is very confident in his talent and capabilities, to an extent where he even believes he is good enough to impart acting-related wisdom to his junior. But the pretentious discussion within the aforementioned group of Mumbai filmmakers, which Pankaj finds embarrassingly hard to grasp, hits him hard. They try to involve him in the conversation without really caring what he has to say, and when he sincerely asks them to explain the question, they belittle him in a stark display of arrogance and uppishness. Pankaj's eyes betray pain and anger, but he is helpless. Ironically, the discussion had initially started about one of the filmmakers creating a docu-fiction about 'heritage'. In the final moments, we discover Pankaj walking away into a foggy night, and the climax reveals how he comes out of the fog.
Abhinav Jha perfectly encapsulates the role of a small-town, struggling actor in his dialogues and demeanour. His anguish at being unable to pursue his passion and being forced to cater to the expectations of his family is visible in his often-demoralised face. Jha's outstanding performance, Mishra's brilliant and nuanced direction, and Tajdar Junaid's quiet yet haunting background score indulge the audience in a short, powerful tale of emotion and ambition that leaves us frustrated and in dismay most of the time.
Dhuin is premiering at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.