Director: Vaibhav Munjal
Cast: Saadat Khan, Roshan Lal, Arushi Sharma, Arjun Sangwan, Ritwik Pareek
What’s remarkable about Vaibhav Munjal’s fare-thee-well (the Inside Llewyn Davis song makes a cameo, too) is its American-prom-night, Student of the Year-ish setup. Unlike most desi shorts, it isn’t obsessed with looking like a scene that belongs somewhere; its universality works precisely because we’ve grown to expect a particular milieu or atmosphere. Oddly enough, despite the clear teeny-bop influences, the kids don’t look like they’ve dropped in from a Riverdale comic panel either.
It’s a high-school farewell party. The location reads St. Xavier’s School, Jaipur: an important detail. No other educational institution inspires artful youngness and romanticism the way any of the country’s Xavier’s buildings do through their Victorian-era architecture. I’d go far enough to say that the old-world-ness of these halls often shapes the tonality of a child’s imagination – even lending a tinge of urbanity to these perceptions without altering their original roots.
Here, a nervous boy (Saadat Khan, as Kunal) simply wants to ask his longtime crush (Arushi Sharma, as Tanvi) out. One can tell that he has replayed this in his mind a thousand times over. He is tense, but not tense enough to stop us from smiling at the little details – his roguish best friend’s determined drunkenness after secretly downing a Bacardi Breezer (those were the days), or a professor slipping in a mention about his private tuition classes.
There’s a deer-in-headlights look about the boy. You can sense that much of his behavior – his reluctant body language and mental conversations – has been subconsciously shaped by the pop culture he consumes. Perhaps this is what sets him apart from the shiny, privileged Karan Johar-ish classroom gaze. For instance, when he sees her dancing for the first time, the music that scores this seminal moment (and plays in his mind, presumably) is from a sexually charged Gaspar Noé movie (Love), and not a customized local soundtrack.
Ditto for when he sees – admires – the sight of her chatting with a friend; a Vaibhav Bundhoo rock ballad from TVF Pitchers slowly morphs into the lilting Oscar Isaac-sung title track. The point being: Kunal is a millennial, and as much as the film tries to fit into a box (there’s an awkward bullying sequence too), there is perhaps a cinematic maturity to his character that deserves more than just a bunch of written “dialogues,” a goofy best friend, strict teachers and a sweet unrequited-love premise.
Even though the literal language is Hindi and the characters very much Indian, I suspect the director’s filmmaking language is slightly more elite and jumpy, and primarily stems from the West. And his narrative grammar is inspired by pieces of music and melody, instead of the other way around. I do like the way he interprets the power of certain stereotypical moments; it stops just short of being derivative.
Munjal’s previous short, Platform Paune Dus, though raw and inexperienced, stemmed from his personal opinion about this country’s spiraling brain-drain epidemic. This one has a little less of him and more of the movies – which isn’t such a bad thing, if it’s only a story he wants to tell.
Watch fare-thee-well here: