Director: Kanu Behl
Cast: Chetan Sharma, Anamica Singh, Suman Jain, Jatin Sarna
Streaming: Mubi (for one month only)
Perhaps the most startling aspect of Kanu Behl's bleakly brutal Binnu Ka Sapna is the image it evokes of his feature-film debut, Titli (2015). Titli was about a tender and timid Delhi boy trying to escape the influence of his toxic family. Eventually, he breaks free – but only just – with the help of his young wife. The end feels like a new beginning: a new generation unlinking itself from an abusive lineage. But Binnu Ka Sapna, a psychological portrait of a simmering Faridabad boy (a breakout Chetan Sharma) who outgrows the clutches of an abusive father, hints that Titli's end was only the beginning of the real tragedy. He may have escaped the burning wreckage of his family, but how would he escape the neatly packaged timebomb within himself? The voices in the head were always going to be louder than the winds of change.
The voice in Binnu's head is the narrative of this film. We hear his thoughts, his dead tone, his desensitized mental posturing and his inner struggle over what is essentially a montage of slow-burning monsterhood. He narrates to us scenes from his parents' troubled marriage. He tells us about his father's anger issues. We feel sorry for him, before he embarks upon an independent journey of young adulthood. He leaves home and works as a chemical engineer. We sense he's damaged – the kind of internal bleeding that we might have seen in Titli after the end credits roll. We sense the ticking. The apple hasn't fallen very far from the tree.
Cutting off from patriarchy is cinema's version of a resolution. But being strangled by its umbilical cord is the life that such cinema reacts to. Binnu Ka Sapna depicts that chokehold in a manner so unsettling that the film feels like both a cautionary tale and a handbook of hell. To make matters worse, this is a protagonist who thinks he is an intellectual. As a result, the language he uses is a chilling combination of the primal and the analytical; he profiles love instead of surrendering to it. Jealousy is an academic construct for him. But the self-loathing is hereditary; you can take the child away from the (Indian) parents but you can't take the parents out of the child. Behl crafts this descent – and he makes us feel the craft.
But Binnu Ka Sapna, a psychological portrait of a simmering Faridabad boy (a breakout Chetan Sharma) who outgrows the clutches of an abusive father, hints that Titli's end was only the beginning of the real tragedy.
For instance, there is a deliberate dissonance between the audio and visuals. The chaos of the mind is depicted through the jarring amplification of ambience noise – this serves as both the soundtrack and the soundscape. The deafening drilling of a road, the clicking of a clock, typing on a keyboard, a siren, a girl chuckling, the din of a lab – at times this drowns out the voiceover, creating a disorienting effect that doubles up as an analogy for a sinking soul. As for the imagery, the 1:1 (square) aspect ratio makes Binnu Ka Sapna feel like a claustrophobic rush of cellphone memories. There's something eerie about the recorded-footage vibe – the kind that ends up on grainy news channels for all the wrong reasons. Xavier Dolan last used this to exhilarating effect in Mommy (2014), another outstanding film about an infected young mind aching for release. Behl replicates these caged frames, even going as far as freezing them at certain moments – like a stilted photo album – turning Binnu Ka Sapna into a kodak-flavoured nightmare.
Given the way it ends, the film could have easily thrown up a slate of statistics to remind us of its societal relevance. But by not succumbing to social posturing – and by making us imagine those numbers instead – it offers a far more haunting picture of a crime that hinges on the delusions of imagination.
Early on, we see Binnu's father always brewing tea as a truce after driving his wife to tears. His tea is delicious. She likes it so much that maybe she looks forward to their fights in order to earn that cup. Evening tea – chai – is an enduring symbol of desi domesticity. It usually signals the transition of day to dusk; the system is so used to it that the average adult is conditioned to expect the sun to set after finishing a cuppa. But Binnu Ka Sapna inverts the cultural grammar of this habit: Tea is served to compensate for the darkness of night and spite. And only after it has boiled over. The harsher the atrocities, the better it tastes. Somewhere in Delhi, Titli and Binnu have a raging tea-stall business today.