Directors: Maitrey Bajpai, Ramiz Ilham Khan
Cast: Jackky Bhagnani, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Yashpal Sharma, Prachi Desai
The makers might want to have us believe that Carbon is a dystopian sci-fi short about our polluted planet bereft of an atmosphere and full of desi oxygen smugglers. And that a hustler called Random (Bhagnani) meets a girl called Pari (Desai) in a dire situation, presenting us with a rejected Wall-E scenario that has nothing to do the PSA-style voiceover.
But I believe there is more to Carbon than its overexcited, self-righteous, low-budget Neill Blomkamp-ness.
The film is secretly telling us the bleak story of not Earth but Hindi cinema – a once magical and pristine world called Bollywood – fifty years from now. In the opening montage, we see this cinematic planet slowly turn black between 2017 and 2067, till it resembles a giant digital booger. Everything is automated, and the citizens with giant oxygen masks are actually futuristic movie-going audiences. Many of them are literally starving for air.
Random, the final poster boy of nepotism, has an artificial heart and remains one of the only survivors to make it this far. All his more artistic contemporaries have perished. Yashpal Sharma, who plays the villainous dealer hiring Random's services to transport rare pure-oxygen cylinders (read: a coherent script) to Mars-bound clients, is the ruthless CEO of a corrupt production house. He has made sure that no scripts remain in the industry, and only the highest bidders from other countries can buy them. Who needs words when you can make money off them? His is one of the many "factories" to have soiled the creative air over the years.
Random meeting Pari and escaping with her into the wastelands of 2067 is perhaps the most appropriate metaphor for an industry bursting at its own seams with gleeful mediocrity
Random's new client is a cynical gun-toting man (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) – the last surviving self-made actor who desperately needs these precious scripts to resuscitate the parallel-acting industry. He was once a force of nature, before the star culture turned him into a jaded hitman. Siddiqui has bitterly kidnapped the girl, who stands for everything he has fought against. She symbolizes the natural evolution of superstar Katrina Kaif – because she turns out to be a robot. "Ladki mein interest aaya aur saala robot nikli," Random mourns, echoing the feelings of many a disillusioned director and co-star.
Random meeting Pari and escaping with her into the wastelands of 2067 is perhaps the most appropriate metaphor for an industry bursting at its own seams with gleeful mediocrity. This is not science or fiction; it's a truth most of us are forced to confront every Friday of the year. And Carbon unintentionally conveys this most serious environmental message – by being one of those aimlessly ambitious and mainstream genre vehicles gone wrong.
I want to say the intent is daring in context of the country it occupies, but this juvenile effort also means that no Indian filmmaker will now dare to make a full-length local sci-fi drama. Which will be such a pity, given that this is a crowded nation prone to dark, toxic visions of various infrastructural failures. In that sense, Carbon is the Roy of shorts. It explores an unconventional genre begging to be touched, but makes a superficial mess out of it. It is the first mover, but also the worst mover.
Watch Carbon here: