Karan (played by a charming Ali Fazal with an enviable, lush mane) finally confesses to Saira (played by Shriya Pilgaonkar) the real reason why he refuses to leave his house, a 279 days long self-imposed house arrest. They are down to the last olive, and decide the person with the saddest life gets the last olive. A template is set up for characters to articulate their vulnerability, one that isn’t just simple, but relatable. Oftentimes, when we collect stories of our lives, don’t we wait for moments to share them? When do I tell my lover of my past affairs? Friends of my current indiscretions? Parents of my alcoholic debris?
This is why House Arrest, a Netflix original, works when it does; a charm that is deeply relatable. At its core, it is a story of urban isolation. Combine this with largely mediocre quirk, and it all gets muddled up, like stitching together ingenious YouTube sketch ideas that forget to look at the narrative as a whole.
Saira wants to write a story about the Japense practice of voluntary isolation, Hikkikomori, and is looking for people to interview. She knows JD, a close friend of Karan, who makes the introduction. JD’s intention becomes clear as the movie progresses. Parallel to this is Karan’s over-sexed neighbour Pinky. If people were assigned colours, she would be neon. Loud, and imposing, yet deeply captivating. She is the daughter of a goon and keeps the body of a maimed man in a baby pink suitcase in Karan’s house. You are waiting for the movie to go off-the-rails mad. It never does, spare one moment, all of 20 seconds. Therein, the faultline widens.
This movie is an experiment in stretching the “quirk factor” to the maximum. Unfortunately, it snaps too early into the movie. At one point in the film, Saira looks at Karan and asks, “What next?” I had the same question.
House Arrest is trying to do interesting things. The film, for one, is mostly set inside a house in NCR. Whenever Karan calls anyone, or anyone calls him, you don’t just hear them but there is also a physical summoning of that person on screen beside him, in the same room. So when JD calls Karan while emptying himself into a urinal, a urinal manifests itself inside the room Karan is in, with JD imposing himself over it. It’s brilliant! But this one trope alone cannot sustain the “quirk factor” of a movie. This movie is an experiment in stretching the “quirk factor” to the maximum. Unfortunately, it snaps too early into the movie. At one point in the film, Saira looks at Karan and asks, “What next?” I had the same question. Where’s the next quirk, the next twist, the next dialogue that would make me smile? (Saira confesses she was run over by a cow once, I thought I heard car, but the Netflix subtitles clarified)
Shriya Pilgaonkar is the most fascinating actor to watch in this movie. Look at her eyes following Fazal’s lips, alternating her gaze between them and his eyes. Her earnest lust is palpable. Ali Fazal’s inability to say no with conviction and mean it, which forms the central crux of the film, is believable. His reticence is believable. His reasons too, though far-fetched, are believable. That is a testament to his ability to convince, to act. Jim Sarbh’s torso makes a strong impression. His role though, similar to his Vijay Sales ad where he keeps repeating Jenga like a stuck tape-recorder, is something he could mutter through in his sleep. I wondered what it was about this character that piqued his attention and assent.
The problem is that since the first season of Sacred Games, none of their India specific content has created the euphoric rage that good cinema elicits. How do we then reconcile the two?
But the more serious question crops up of why Netflix is peddling in mediocrity. Just yesterday the news came out, of Netflix India’s revenue being up by 700%. I am sure growth numbers such as these encourage Netflix to take up stories like this, the pitch of which sounds insane. But good pitches never guarantee good films. The problem is that since the first season of Sacred Games, none of their India specific content has created the euphoric rage that good cinema elicits. How do we then reconcile the two? Till then, throw my way some more nayan-sukh.