Director: Ankoosh Bhatt
Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Prashant Narayanan, Puja Gupta, Mishal Raheja, Asmmita Bakshi
We don’t see enough of Kay Kay Menon on screen these days. This void is evident in how Sparsh, a 15-minute short that features Menon as a cynical Mumbai cop, feels like a different (read better) film when he is on screen. Just like his character is designed as a reminder of the city’s fleeting humanity, his performance reminds us of this rough-around-the-edges film’s inherent goodness. He is Inspector Shelar, a middle-aged man so bogged down by the system that he is seeking early retirement. He is on autopilot, wearing the kind of bored gait that suggests the idealism is long gone and he has mentally checked out. We first see him on a phone call, clearly frustrated with orders from above regarding yet another “bade baap ka beta” (rich man’s son). This sets the tone for the rest of the film, in which his rage will presumably be curbed by a city out to redeem itself in his tired eyes. Is he still capable of doing the small things right even as the big picture looks bleaker than ever?
An alleged eve-teasing incident involving a Muslim taxi driver and a female passenger (crying wolf?) is supposed to be the clincher. The idea – of urban India being a chain-reaction of hierarchical injustices – is accurate, but the execution falls short. Menon isn’t on screen during the incident, and there’s a marked difference in the way it is staged and acted – the escalation of the verbal exchange is forced, the characterization is devoid of nuance, the framing a bit manipulative and the score, misleading. Another instance is the done-to-death trope of the senior Inspector explaining his philosophies (and the narrative) to an eager constable; it is clearly an old spoon-feeding device, and doesn’t come across as necessary or organic here. An introspective solo cop might have been more effective for a movie about an existential lawkeeper.
But I like that Sparsh presents the orange sodium-lamp-lit streets of Mumbai in all its glory. That’s the advantage of low-budget productions having to shoot in a city’s natural nocturnal environment; the look works as an extra dimension, filling in for a background score or convenient social posturing. After all, Mumbai has plenty of quiet backroads that help replicate a patrol’s sleepy routines. Sparsh uses them well, but left me unmoved by everything but Kay Kay Menon’s disenchantment – both as a policeman too good for his job, and as an artist who is too good for the work he does. At least the film ends on a hopeful note. We’re told, not for the first time, that Rome wasn’t built in a day. But most storytellers forget that even those who built it may not have been sure of how long it would take. Hope, at times, is simply the process of being unable to see the future.