Director: Vaibhav Munjal
Cast: Ashok Lokhande, Rajagopalan Ganesan
On February 28th, a 63-year-old man waits to turn 64. This is a poignant one-line story in itself. Given that he was born on a leap day, his birthday only ever surfaces every four years. The man is more than a few pegs down. He has ordered for a jumbo dosa, presumably to toast his own existence – because nobody else will. He lives alone. While we're used to seeing isolated characters going through different kinds of existential despair in cinema for years, it isn't a very Indian theme. In a family-centric and immensely populated country like ours, it isn't common to see adults of an advanced age honest and uncomfortable about the idea of loneliness. Either they won't admit to it, or they will find a way to be surrounded by strangers.
Which is why alcohol here is more than just a theatrical performing device. It makes the man (Ashok Lokhande) lament his emptiness to the first sign of company – the fast-food delivery boy (Rajagopalan Ganesan). One senses this isn't the first time he has made someone listen to him – he seems like a guy who enjoys making conversation with his rickshaw drivers, cook, elevator boy, shopkeepers and watchman – but this might be the first time he is truly baring his soul. And as is often the case with human nature, the man then finds something specific to blame his failures on. He proceeds to pinpoint his date of birth – or the perpetual lack of it – as the sole reason his life has turned out unfavorably. He has to wait two more years to experience another birthday. And in that, apparently, lie all his lost opportunities.
This curious faith in superstition and fate is hinted at by his choice of music at home: a devotional Anup Jalota anthem on loop. The essence of this short film, however, lies in the boy's reaction to the man's internal monologue. One senses that the man doesn't expect the boy to respond – nobody ever does. He is too used to his own thoughts. Which is why there is something oddly touching about their brief exchange.
On one hand, here is a filmmaker reacting to the inherent cynicism of his social space, and on the other, there's the boy reacting to the old-school, myopic emotions of a withering man
In times like these, it's difficult to infuse a story with an organic sense of optimism. Yet, director Vaibhav Munjal – this is his third short I'm writing about, after Platform Paune Dus and fare-thee-well – manages to do just that by keeping it simple. It somehow makes sense that a boy, who is naturally far more in touch with the lyrical romanticism of his own generation through the internet, ends up surprising the man the way he does. His action is awkwardly poetic – genuine, yes, but also like something he might have been inspired to do by a motivational meme, viral video or online article. That he can think on his heels, almost like a writer wanting to momentarily control the world for this anguished stranger, is a reflection of the young mind that created him.
On one hand, here is a filmmaker reacting to the inherent cynicism of his social space, and on the other, there's the boy reacting to the old-school, myopic emotions of a withering man. That the score goes from an Indian devotional theme to a melancholic Norah Jones song says all there is to say about the mental constitution of a man still willing to embrace the chance of enlightenment. He is not too old to think differently. After all, he is just about to turn 16.