Director: Manish Rahatkar
Cast: Shweta Basu Prasad, Ishaan A Khanna, Delissa Mehra
It’s interesting how, as I grew older, the term ‘visa’ began to assume different meanings. From the relative playfulness of Sachin Tendulkar’s “Visa Power” banking-card salute, it soon became the universal symbol of hope and dreams. Dreams to travel, explore, visit, evolve and see the world. An official stamp became a badge of prestige and adventure.
But lately, in these troubled times, the right visa can be equated more with breaking free and escaping; it’s more about seeking and securing a visa than simply acquiring one. Success is welcomed more with a sigh of relief than a jubilant celebration.
Therefore, a visa application is no more an exciting prospect, but a daunting one – especially for those in dire need of a new life, another chance, a different beginning.
Manish Rahatkar’s short film dramatically examines this Argo-like procedural anxiety – of a young Pakistani family desperate to flee their riot-torn city. The specifics aren’t important; they could just as well be based out of Syria or Palestine, but there’s much about their tense, and increasingly lonely, situation that resonates with our immediate surroundings.
The pensive man (Ishaan Khanna) comes across as a disillusioned cop – a lawmaker swimming against the essence of his profession to redefine his family’s future. The conflict of being forced to choose between his ‘home’ and a life is visible in the way he sheepishly slips in a bribe between the pages of his file to a lady at the British consulate.
He isn’t proud of what he has had to become – a man with everything to lose, first losing his innocence over the concept of freedom.
There are hints of religious intolerance haunting their diverse domestic existence – his Hindu wife (Shweta Basu Prasad) is worried for their little daughter’s (curiously named Jasmin) safety. They want to leave before it’s too late. Their plan is dishonest, but their faces are painfully honest.
It’s easy to dismiss them as a “less extreme” case, but there are no degrees of risk when death is the only other option. One can sense the slow and spiked wheels of bureaucracy through the man’s humbled eyes and his wife’s nervous ticks. The film is framed and shot smartly, with its gloomy palette and muted hues, invoking the idea of a certain culture rather than the physicality of it.
There are hints of religious intolerance haunting their diverse domestic existence – his Hindu wife (Shweta Basu Prasad) is worried for their little daughter’s (curiously named Jasmin) safety. They want to leave before it’s too late.
The problem lies perhaps only in the choice of narrative structure. It opens with the couple sitting quietly in the consulate lobby, and we go into a flashback of how they reached this moment. This is fine. But instead of merely bookending the film with the same scene appearing later, this shot is distributed over three or four separate spots – constantly interspersed in between the flashbacks to remind us that their thoughts are scattered.
This makes for an uneven and unnecessarily complex narrative – a telltale sign of a first-time filmmaker experimenting with the medium, and perhaps getting a little carried away with the existential promise of ‘non-linearity’.
The ending is a bit sugary too, but offers up the resolution we need to see – bolstered largely by the performances, more than the jittery sentimentality of the craft. It’s always nice to see Shweta Basu Prasad, a former child star, finally committing to the texture of roles she deserves.
Even as the fleeting ‘bahu’ of a patriarchal household in the recent Badrinath ki Dulhania, she quietly communicates an aura that tells a hidden story – quite like her more verbose manner here. As a result, she earns this little film a tentative stamp of approval.
Watch Visa here: