Director: Bikramjit Gupta
Cast: Harshita Nahata, Vikrant Singh, Bhumika Dube
What comes to mind when you see a pimp, a prostitute and a little girl in a car at the dead of night? Bridge is anything but that. It subverts the cynicism of evolution to frame hope even at the center of darkness. The tender short film explores the unlikeliest scenario featuring these three people. They’re from different walks of life, but Bridge is distinctly aware that they could also be the different stages of strife.
A Mumbai taxi driver moonlighting as a pimp accidentally knocks down a 12-year-old schoolgirl while ferrying his sex worker to her client. The girl looks lost; she doesn’t speak. The man feels responsible, and along with the hot-headed sex worker, drives the girl around the city in the hope of finding her home. When they find a cutout of a small fishing village in her pocket, they cross the Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge to take her there. The girl enjoys the breeze on the bridge. She is amazed by the structure. This is, visibly, the highlight of her young life.
In a darker film about a more common Mumbai, the two adults would have used this opportunity to kidnap and “induct” the girl into their line of work. But Bridge chooses the story we rarely read about. They may resent one another like a crabby couple beaten down by circumstances, but the two unite to protect the girl from the clutches of another pimp. In the process, they express the dormant humanity of good-hearted hustlers who refuse to exploit the innocence of a minor. They don’t want the “mute” girl to turn into them, which is why their attitude is almost parental. In a way, they become the change they yearned for back when they were at the crossroads of survival. The girl is now their responsibility, not their property.
Bridge is also a fine example of how to shoot a soulful zero-budget short film. The context adds to the rawness of the craft. The naturalism of Mumbai’s nocturnal orange-LED streets informs the perspective of a night-crawling taxi. The unadorned view of a place provides an unadorned view of its people. The moving last few minutes are drenched in daylight – the look of “waking up” to the truth once the identity of the girl is revealed. The performances, too, are on point. Vikrant Singh is the ideal shade of grey as the cab driver. Bhumika Dube as the sex worker is the perfect mix of feisty and perceptive; rage is her defense mechanism, but empathy is her cape. I’ve seen quite a bit of this versatile actress on screen in the last few years, and I hope more directors understand her talent.
Most of all, Harshita Nahata has that wide-eyed but ambiguous gaze of a girl adopted by a city. Everything is more of an adventure than experience to her. Even her blankness is expressive – especially in the scene where she stays silent even as another pimp tries to trick her “guardians” into leaving her with him. We later discover that she can speak, but at this moment she trusts her two unlikely guardians to keep her safe – against their shady colleague, against their own instincts. It’s a moment that defines the essence of this film: one that allows the young protagonist to discover Mumbai as a spirit rather than a space. It also allows the driver and the prostitute to rediscover Mumbai as a spirit rather than a space. As a result, she becomes the bridge that connects the one-way remorse of adulthood to the four-lane promise of childhood.