Writer & Director: Prem Sankar
Editor: Manoj Kannoth
Music: Gopi Sundar
Sound: Nithin Lukose
Cast: Basil Paulose, Santhy Balachandran, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Sunil Sukhada, Alencier Ley Lopez
Randuper air drops you into the superbly constructed urban and psychological chaos that Karun (Basil Paulose) unexpectedly finds himself in — one night in Bangalore. It’s the day (or immediate aftermath) of demonetization, his girlfriend has dumped him without an explanation, his stuff is in a car outside the house, and he’s trying to hangout with an escort but doesn’t have the cash. Prem Sankar stacks up one layer of chaos on top of another, and it’s impossible to predict what Karun might do next. He’s basically an existential creature whose life appears to be a series of ‘somehow, get from point A to point B’ tasks in a sea of chaos. His character has a quiet, reptilian energy in the way he’s constantly trying to satisfy his basic needs while also being a decent person without really meaning to.
Right at the outset, Nithin Lukose’s sound design helps — and forces — us to get into the chaos in Karun’s head. For example, at the beginning of the film, the sound of an automated voice that tells that a person is unreachable is used — instead of music — to set the mood that Karun has been dumped. Music by Gopi Sundar is spare and allows sounds generated from inside Karun’s car and outside by traffic to take over; there’s also the constantly modulating sound of the wind as it weaves in and out of the car. Within the first ten minutes, you’re in Karun’s head as he’s managing his angst by driving around Bangalore’s nighttime urban sprawl, hoping the lights and noise (and his future appointment with an escort) will help him drown his feelings about his breakup.
When he bumps into Ria (Santhy Balachandran), it superbly multiplies the randomness in the film because she’s in a far greater mess than he is. Just like him, she’s also newly broken up from a relationship and unemployed from a job. Karun saves her from a dangerous situation and gives her a ride back home. (This further delays his rendezvous with the escort who basically thinks he’s out to get cash from the ATM. More chaos; another loose end hanging.) Ria’s behavior is unusual, and when you think Randuper is going to be yet another love story about two people who bump into each other in dire circumstances, it consciously avoids cliches. You know Ria and Karun are too complex and real to fall in love over a random two-hour car ride at night.
But right about the halfway point, when Karun and Ria have become friends and cannot possibly become anything more in just that one night, Prem Sankar introduces a ‘twist’. The buildup to that is almost the entire second half which feels claustrophobic and repetitive. Before Karun meets Ria, he’s always on the move in his car, getting down to do something before moving on again. The visuals and the sound maintain a mood of low-key nervousness. Even though there’s a lot of talking, the conversations are light and unselfconscious.
But once the film shifts focus to the budding relationship between Karun and Ria, it’s basically the two of them driving around speaking about their lives, from when they were kids (there’s a recurring reference to lizards that sounds profound without meaning much). There’s a minor relief when they shift from the car to a restaurant to have a late-night snack. But that change is only superficial, relieving us from the tedium of a claustrophobic car by replacing it with the tedium of conversation in an empty restaurant.
The search for a simple resolution in a film that’s set up as an edgy and surface-level take on Karun’s complex life feels forced. Ria’s big secret — the twist — also feels forced. In fact, her behaviour throughout the night seems unbelievable if she was actually hiding something so serious from Karun. Finally, when Ria and Karun end up together in the film, that, too, feels forced. Randuper religiously avoids cliches in its first half, only to surrender to them in the second.