Director: Rohit Mittal
Cast: Arjun Radhakrishnan, Sanya Bansal
Roop Ki Rani comes across as the kind of short film that believes it is stranger, and cooler, than its title suggests. A thief named Roop falls for a mysterious but tortured schoolgirl named Rani in an apartment he is about to rob. Rani has an abusive father. Roop is intrigued by her Lolita-like presence. He asks her unlikely questions; she smokes an unlikely cigarette. We get it: they are outliers, and operate in their own little world of political incorrectness. What follows is an exchange that is part-sardonic-Bollywood-homage and part-tonal-foreplay: a clear attempt to have the eccentricity of the filmmaking alter our perception of its events.
The 19-minute sequence is set at night in suburban Mumbai, though it wants to sound like it unravels in the neon-lit streets of downtown LA or upscale Seoul. It has a synth-heavy score, which at times deliberately overpowers the dialogue: the kind of mix that promises a surreal and deadpan take on urban solitude by focusing on an unusual situation.
It’s difficult to be swayed solely by the mood of its storytelling. The two-lonely-souls-connect-under-bizarre-circumstances template is admittedly one of modern cinema’s most colourful indulgences. It is purely behavioral in nature, which is why so many filmmakers and writers tend to play around with form – heist drivers, Iranian vampires, American beasts, drug addicts and suicidal teenagers elevate this language of unpredictability.
But director Rohit Mittal’s genre-mask here is the formulaic nature of Hindi cinema itself – the ordinary characters react like they are stuck in a movie (“Why does your father beat you? I thought only poor women get beaten up by their husbands”), but don’t want to conform to its rules. You keep expecting something different – after all this is a robber and his potential victim discussing life – but Mittal seems to be satisfied by merely defying those expectations. As a result, his hero and heroine end up unwittingly reinforcing these rules in their pursuit of subverting them.
Mittal’s Autohead, which played at the Mumbai Film Festival a couple of years ago, was a freewheeling exercise in genre-fluidness. Its mockumentary format propelled the non-narrative of a sociopathic rickshaw driver. Anything went, because the human psyche has the potential to be far stranger than a written plot. When broken minds form the core, shooting fiction in the language of designed reality is somewhat more compelling than shooting un-designed reality, as is the case here, in the language of fiction. Maybe this explains why I can’t help but imagine the film that might have resulted out of Roop and Rani ditching his bike for a late-night rickshaw instead.