Director: Pratik Kothari
Writer: Swati Das
Cast: Rupesh Tillu, Gaurangi Dang
Streaming on: YouTube
Grill is the kind of short film that’s so endearing on paper that it becomes frustrating to confront its executional flaws. A homeless man who sleeps on the footpath notices that the young woman in an apartment opposite his “space” leads a nocturnal existence. She works at night, leaving her flat empty. He sees an opportunity, but not in a creepy way. Her ground-floor window grill comes loose, and he sneaks into the apartment for a good night’s sleep. This becomes a habit. He starts to know a stranger through her (messy) space – and even starts to care for the house, like a polite guest who cleans up after himself. He sees money, food, her undergarments even, but chooses to have a shower and nap instead. He resists turning the story into a bleak newspaper headline. The class disparity doesn’t let him dream too big – or dark. Given that it’s not Delhi, it sounds like an innocent arrangement.
The premise is uncanny, especially at a time in history when having a roof of your head feels like the ultimate privilege. But there’s something wrong with the treatment. It veers between slice-of-life dramedy and sad-Raj-Kapoor tragicomedy. The soundtrack is jarring, as if a silent film escaped from a cage and decided to misbehave. The actor has an over-expressive face, as a result of which the director seems to have gotten carried away with the mime-heavy tone of his short. Unnecessarily loud scenes – for instance, the man hides under a bed while the maid sweeps the floor – dot what should have been a quiet portrait of urban apathy and broken dreams. I understand the need to draw parallels between the “status” of the man and the caretaker of the house, but perhaps it could have been done in a more dignified manner.
The film also looks strangely incomplete in terms of its look: the colour correction is off, the frames are too dark and the narrative too ambitious for a low-budget production. It’s a pity, because the tale of a desperate man who means no harm has an antique short-story vibe about it. There were more daring possibilities too: Imagine if the two started communicating with one another without seeing each other, like an Asha Jaoar Majhe or The Lunchbox adapted to social context. I’m also not sure why it ends with him in a hat, shirt and with a rose in his hands. But I suspect it has much to do with the fact that happiness in Hindi films tends to be denoted visually rather than psychologically. Or maybe it could just be that the man ended up watching too many old movies in her living room.