Director: Chandan Roy Sanyal
Cast: Chandan Roy Sanyal, Adil Hussain, Amol Parashar, Sudeep Modak, Inderpreet Singh
Azaad, a short film made to coincide with India's 70th Independence Day, recalls – if only tonally – Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's definitive exploration of contemporary rebellion, Rang De Basanti. Sepia-tinted history is intercut with present events, a narrative device designed to make us ruminate on the modern and compromised interpretations of freedom. The choice of protagonist is self-explanatory: A newly married city slicker named Azaad (Chandan Roy Sanyal; also the director) revisits the village where his late freedom-fighter grandfather lost his three best friends to British bullets. As his taxi enters the region, his moods begin to assume the urgency of a day long forgotten.
Clocking at a frightfully long 23 minutes, the film attempts to communicate a transformative phase, complete with a patriotic song and three acts. Thankfully, there's no interval.
It convolutes itself by becoming a story within a story: Azaad harks back to his childhood, when the old man had narrated this incident to him. This pre-independence portion briefly looks like a period buddy flick gone dark, especially with all the cycling and banter. Through their ordeal, we hear gunshots followed by cries of agony; the annoyingly omnipresent shooters are never revealed.
The idea is not unfamiliar. So often, one encounters cynical old-timers ruing the decay of this country, especially when faced with the fixer-upping ideals of newer generations. Their favourite words of lament: "Is this what we fought for?" Azaad is presumably one of us too, equally ignorant about his roots, caught up in life's rat race. Ancestral homes, though, often tend to stop us in our tracks, at least for a few moments. Sanyal's handling of this epiphany is melodramatic and spiritual (literally). One can sense the actor in him trying hard to overcompensate for his rough directorial edges. In the process, he stretches time and leaves precious little to our imagination.
Eventually, the occasion deserves a more individualistic and less obvious tribute. It's a free world after all.