Direction: Twilight Entertainment
Cast: Sumeet Vyas, Mukti Mohan
The problem with the contemporary Indian coming-of-age genre is that it isn’t really novel or brave anymore. There was a time when we’d gasp at how right it felt to watch a young man quit his corporate job and follow his artistic dreams. There was a time when it meant something. It’ll probably never get old either; the conflict between living and making a living is the cornerstone of modern civilization. It comes from an inherently good place, and perhaps addresses a generation that often needs these kind of generic reminders, but somehow cinema has found a way to make this honesty a ‘brand’ too.
Born Free is that kind of film. It seems to be too bound by its form to look any different from the finding-myself template. At forty minutes, it is too short to support its laidback conversational structure, and too long to say something painfully familiar.
The film starts off fine. Corporate slave Samarth (the always-likeable Sumeet Vyas) is on a flight to Goa to make a very important product presentation for his company. He is obsessed with his laptop, but isn’t as uptight as we’ve grown to expect of white-collar salary earners. A chatty old Delhi uncle (an on-point Atul Srivastava) is his co-passenger, as well as a pretty travel blogger (Mukti Mohan), who seems unusually tolerant and accepting of the over-genial, borderline-intrusive uncle. She gets the middle seat, of course.
This exchange between the three is sweet and natural, playful even, something you’d imagine occurring between distinct personalities. From her polar-opposite choice of profession, you know immediately that she is the typical ‘carefree’ device planted to alter sincere Samarth’s soul over the course of too many chance meetings, sunsets and introspective chats over (one particular brand of) beer that is sponsoring this little production.
At one point later, while explaining some sort of existential life-calling philosophy, she even displays a pint and asks him why it is so special (“taste, stylish bottle and substance,” she sermonizes thoughtfully). Easy there, Ultra. You can’t mess with your content to forcibly insert such shameless copy quotes – not in this medium at least. This can be such a turn-off, especially when the story is already advertising a famous tourist town as the holy land of epiphanies. Shoving the label loudly in our faces every second frame demonstrates a crippling distrust of creativity – which is ironically exactly the kind of bullet-point life the protagonist wants to escape.
Much of Samarth’s graph – especially scenes with his shifty boss (Kareem Hajee) – feels straight out of an Imtiaz Ali film. Except, one can’t hear the music of the characters. Keeping it restrained is not wrong, but there’s something uncharacteristically boring about its benignity. There’s not as much passion, no A.R. Rahman, some spotty sound design and way too many words. Despite its title, this film doesn’t quite advertise freedom, just by virtue of existing. Funnily enough, it’s mostly the beer that snaps its wings.
Watch Born Free here