Director: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu, Gitanjali Rao
October is the closest that contemporary Hindi cinema has come to resembling an E. E. Cummings poem. Listen to the last verse of his famous poem – somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond. Cummings writes:
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands)
This could have been written for Dan and Shiuli, though even at the end of the film, I had no idea how well they really knew each other. Both are management trainees in a Delhi hotel. She is bright and lovely. He is sweet and a little strange. What happens between them is tragic and tender and like life, accidental. There is no explanation and no drama either. The sadness unfolds gently until it has engulfed you entirely. That is the beauty of this film.
Let me warn you that October is an acquired taste. Director Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi aren't going for plot here. When you step in, forget about their previous collaborations – Vicky Donor and Piku. You won't find the laughs or those full-bodied characters like Beeji from Vicky Donor or Budhan from Piku. They have been replaced by a meditative tonality. Shoojit gives us a close-up of the drudgery of daily life as Dan goes through his chores that range from laundry to killing flies. It's soul-sucking work, presented with minimal fuss. Like the writing, the background music is spare. There is no attempt to underline emotions or press audience buttons.
In fact, everyone and everything in October is underplayed to the point of becoming static. You will get restless. You will wish for something forceful and dynamic to happen. At one point, I found myself predicting possible endings. But October isn't predictable. The film stays true to its tonality. Shoojit and Juhi remain uncompromising and committed to creating a film that has textures like gossamer.
The performances have the same stillness. Debutante Banita Sandhu has wonderfully expressive eyes that carry her through this difficult role. She is perfectly cast as a lovely mystery that is never solved. Varun Dhawan admirably sheds his energetic heroism and transforms into a bumbling, stumbling, confused boy who finds purpose. Dan walks to the beat of a different drummer – observe his conversations in the hospital. We are never told why he is the way he is. Varun, hunched over and shuffling, makes him real.
And the spine here is filmmaker Gitanjali Rao who plays Shiuli's mother. Her face has a dignified, lived-in beauty and her grief is heart-breaking. The relationship between her and Dan defies definition. It simply rests on empathy and the connection that one human being makes with another.
October also has striking camerawork by Avik Mukhopadhayay, a subtle soundtrack by Shantanu Moitra and Anupam Roy and some bang-on casting by Jogi. But this is the sort of film that will divide audiences – for some, it will play as painfully pretentious. For others, it will evoke a depth of emotions. I belong to the latter.