Taksaal Short Film Review: Minimum City, Film Companion
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Director: Prasoon Prabhakar

Cast: Gyanendra Tripathi, Ghanshyam Lalsa, Sanya Bansal, Pawan Singh, Ikhlaque Khan

Taksaal opens with gloomy shots of suburban Mumbai. We see overcast skies, a blinking traffic signal, a lifeless skyscraper. The shots are from a low angle, from the perspective of miniscule humans entangled in the city’s web of struggle and survival. The theme is clear: a citizen looking upward rather than downward, dwarfed by the city rather than rejuvenated by it, hoping for better days rather than reflecting on worse ones.

In a few minutes, much of this is confirmed: Sandeep (a terrific Gyanendra Tripathi) is an under-confident adult with a speech defect, a paralyzed father, a horrible boss and a flaky wife.

For the next 30 minutes, director Prasoon Prabhakar crafts the tragic language of a ticking time bomb. We watch, helplessly and knowingly, as Sandeep’s life slowly spirals into the land of no return. He is surrounded by people who are designed to push him to the brink. The ‘villains’ are slight caricatures – the half-estranged wife who wants money for a startup with a male colleague, the filmy boss who seems cruel for the heck of it, his gossipy colleagues speaking in hushed voices.

Taksaal, in the end, is a solemn snapshot of India’s great middle-class paradox – a conflicted section caught between two extremes, torn between dreams of lofty terrace views and nightmares of modest street views

But there’s a strange profundity to the scenes in which Sandeep cares for his old father – he pours his heart out to the only person who cannot respond. And until the final few moments, there’s humanity – like watching an underdog aching to defy society – in the interactions between Sandeep and his office peon. Here are two men who understand each other, but the sociocultural divide is so amplified in big cities like these that all it takes is the threat of instability to dilute this fleeting connection.

The film hints at the inherent presence of metropolitan classism, even in meek men that are at the receiving end of those within the same social bracket. This is evident from the way he chooses to retaliate against the one man “lower” than him – when push comes to shove, the kindred-soul chemistry will always give way to the primal instincts of hierarchal privilege.

We’ve seen cinematic protagonists like Sandeep before, and we will see them for as long as the world misinterprets the meaning of “the Spirit of Mumbai.” Taksaal ends with a piece of poetry that indirectly reveals the true essence of this spirit: it is not a metaphor for kindness and endurance against all odds. It is in fact closer to its literal translation – that of ghosts, the living dead who trudge towards their cramped flats while reflecting on what they might lose instead of what they have gained.

Because Taksaal, in the end, is a solemn snapshot of India’s great middle-class paradox – a conflicted section caught between two extremes, torn between dreams of lofty terrace views and nightmares of modest street views.

Rating:   star
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