Director: Randeep Jha
Cast: Digambar Prasad, Priyanka Pathak, Hareesh Chhabra, Sushil Tyagi
Randeep Jha’s short film, Kartaa, is based in Delhi, but comes across as a bleak Bombay film because it humanizes the city’s ultimate symbol of desperate hustle: the shady real-estate broker. Almost every geographical region can stake a displeasing claim to this murky genre of humankind, but there’s something inherently tragic about the shifty, sweaty small-time agent – as opposed to the lavish middle-Indian ominousness of the politically connected builder – that is emblematic of Mumbai’s desensitized, dog-eat-god excesses. They are full of gas (a phrase that, perversely, preempts the film’s climax) and represent the worst of the art of Sales; notice the way every other person looks at the protagonist and you might sense a perpetual eye-roll, and a general wariness about his soul-selling integrity.
The film is presented by Anurag Kashyap, which is enough of a hint that the gritty slice-of-life-ness put forth by the maker might likely be designed to slice the life out of us.
Randeep Jha’s short film, Kartaa, is based in Delhi, but comes across as a bleak Bombay film because it humanizes the city’s ultimate symbol of desperate hustle: the shady real-estate broker.
Akhilesh (Digambar Prasad) lurks across the capital in nooks and crannies, making it look like a metropolitan letter missing its airy vowels. While he struggles to facilitate an overambitious – and somewhat doomed – deal, the camera takes its time with him. It barely focuses on him from across cages and shadows as if it were deliberately adding to his overall humiliation, and doesn’t bother to respect his face very much at night. In a way the framing reflects his overall sense of self-worth, even as he is slapped, rejected and abused on the job. He is reminiscent of hassled Head Constable Tambe (Manoj Bajpayee) from Devashish Makhija’s edgy short, Taandav – in that he is sinking little by little, and isn’t competent at what he does perhaps because he is a better human being than the profession requires him to be.
Whereas a cathartic release is found in the way Tamble temporarily loses his balance and breaks into a furious, amusing dance on festival duty, Akhilesh has no such luxury. He is on the brink. He can’t be afforded that kind of emotional resolution. He looks like the sort of man who doesn’t like that his job makes him lie for a living; he seems ashamed of what it has turned him into. The pensiveness on his face is permanent, the beard a sign of premature ruin, not least because the banks are knocking at the door and his wife doesn’t need to say a word to demonstrate her disappointment.
Prasad wears this depression so convincingly that he doesn’t really need a background score. Though we are made to view him through the prism of his work, this could well be the story of so many families who run out of hope faster than they can dream. He channelizes a bit of Nana Patekar’s Taxi No. 9211 avatar (another quintessentially Bombay movie) – except that he is the villain and victim of his own story here. Given that he is only a 20-minute short film, no twist of fate, three-act structure and younger rival can truly affect his situation. No entertainment can be derived out of it.
And maybe that’s why, from decades of being conditioned to expect an underdog psychological drama, we find ourselves waiting with bated breath for Akhilesh to challenge his circumstances. We know it’s coming. And in this wait lies director Randeep Jha’s bittersweet victory, long after the end credits have rolled. Brokers, it is suggested, have feelings too; if you look closely, it is an integral part of their title.