Director: Adarsh H Eshwarappa
Cast: Paayal Radhakrishna, Sidhaartha Maadhyamika, Sowmya Jaganmurthy, Shashank Purushotham.
Shuddhi came out of nowhere in the third month of 2017 and rocked the world of Kannada cinema. Director Adarsh H Eshwarappa boldly spoke against the nuisance created by right-wing extremists in his feature-length directorial debut. His vision was precise and he knew what he wanted to deliver. Now, his new film Bhinna is out, on Zee5, as an original. It didn’t have a theatrical release, and you can easily sense the reason behind the makers’ decision once you watch the film.
For films that are as intimate and self-centered as Bhinna, digital releases are a boon. The opening scenes of this psychological horror drama are loaded with information — three principal characters narrate their side of the story, and, surprisingly, are honest in front of the camera. They do not seem to hide anything. Vimala (Sowmya Jaganmurthy) and Mohan (Shashank Purushotham) are married, and so are Kaveri (Paayal Radhakrishna) and Sathish (Sidhaartha Maadhyamika). But, when adultery rears its head between Vimala and Sathish, the other two people involved in this chequerboard of relationships also begin to make the most of it. (This isn’t a major spoiler, since the entire movie unfolds layer by layer with this topic as the premise.)
If Bhinna were a comedy, there would have been plenty of laughs. However, the film doesn’t bloom in that realm. Instead, we’re put in the middle of debilitating marriages and asked to view the seams come off. Do the confrontations turn ugly? Would there be some sort of name-calling while the fingers point at each other? None of that happens anywhere. Even when all the four people have dinner, there are only painful glances, hurtful gasps, and mocking smiles. They don’t preach about the virtuousness of fidelity either. They gently take stabs at one another, and make sure their voices don’t cross the borders of the house they’re dining in.
Even if they did, nobody would have heard them, as Vimala and Mohan live far away from the city. They’re probably closer to a forest than to a neighborhood with shopping complexes, hospitals, and police stations. The importance of this particular location comes into play in the third act when everything starts to fall into place. There appears to be a backstory, featuring Kaveri and her growing-up years. But, we’re not taken into those areas. There are only glimpses from which you can gather some sort of an idea regarding those struggling days. In Ashwin Saravanan’s Tamil-Telugu bilingual Game Over, the flashback portions were presented in flashes. However, you could piece together the information and arrive at a conclusion. It doesn’t quite happen the same way in Bhinna, though.
The flashback stories here remain in the background. They don’t give you the complete picture. Nevertheless, Puttanna Kanagal’s National Award- winning movie Sharapanjara might throw some light on the characters’ names and the situations they’re stuck in. Apart from the glaringly obvious references to that 70s classic, Adarsh has borrowed a lot from minimalist and indie dramas. At any given point of time, there aren’t more than four characters on the screen. And, more importantly, there are only around a dozen scenes staged outside the four walls of the homestay that Kaveri goes to (to read a script), and Vimala and Mohan’s house.
These basic aspects largely add to the appeal of indie-ness, and since the running time is just five minutes above the hour-and-a-half mark, the right answers to unknotting the mysteries don’t take long. Paayal, who switches between being the hunter and the hunted, is the pick of the lot amongst the cast members. Her character keeps reading the book Return from Madness by Kathleen Degen and Ellen Nasper (Adarsh must have included this as part of a visual gag). And, in another scene, Kaveri spots a poster of Shuddhi. This filmmaker has created a mini-universe already where all the characters he’s come up with reside in the same city (Kannada cinema’s Gotham, without the Joker and Batman, if you will!).
For all the strong stares that Kaveri throws at the remaining threesome during the dinner episode, she reminded me of Rosamund Pike from Gone Girl. There’s a feeling of, “I know it all,” in her eyes. But Shashank Purushotham’s portrayal of a jealous — and cunning — husband is a tad bit disappointing. He comes across as an irritated cop who’s asked to investigate the case of a missing handkerchief, and not as the husband who’s hurt because his wife chooses another man.
Bhinna, with a tagline that reads, “The broken are different,” is indeed different. It’s a rare film that doesn’t take your curiosity for granted.