Director: Sahirr Sethhi, Anubhuti Kashyap, Tanvi Gandhi, Ashwin Lakshmi Narayan
Writer: Sahirr Sethhi, Kaivalya Kulkarni, Shiv Nair, Rajat Mehtani, Adhiraj Singh, Pulkit Arora, Vishal Dayama, Punnet Chaddha
Cast: Arjun Mathur, Saba Azad, Imaad Shah, Tanmay Dhanania, Veer Rajwant Singh, Apoorva Arora
Streaming Platform: Youtube (Netflix India)
No one was expecting their mind's to be blown, simply because we have reconciled to the constraints of such cinema- made during the pandemic, with little to no contact, with bare resources, sparse action, and lots of hope. The only way to distinguish yourself and your work, perhaps, is to charm. (The Ritviz x Jugaad Motion Pictures short film Cabin Fever did that quite well.)
Home Stories, Netflix India's latest tetraptych anthology does that, but sparingly. You have four stories, and the only connecting thread is the fact that they were shot in lockdown; the stories do not seem to coalesce fruitfully into a whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-parts much like Ghost Stories. The curation of the stories, however, seems deliberate. It starts off with the most isolated, and ends with the most chaotic, two dramas, two comedies, playing alternatively. But the genre is diluted. The laughs are smiles, and the drama is muted, or comes entirely from the camera movement. (There is a touch-me-not moment when the Jay Oza's camera inches closer and then distances alternatively towards the end of the first short, "Out With It" directed by Sahirr Sethhi with Arjun Mathur, that was quite disconcerting to watch, as if we are trying to hold him, but also afraid of doing so, recoiling)
This touch-me-not camera becomes touch-me-knot as it witnesses a wedding in the last short ("Web Ne Bana Di Jodi" directed Ashwin Lakshmi Narayan, perhaps the most logistically insane) about a father's reluctance on getting her daughter married on web-chat. This story tries to flirt with melodrama milking the emotional father trope, but the strain shows, and the cathartic climax of that is never felt. This might be a great moment to rethink film-writing and genre elements. Instead of situations, we should worry more about conversations, fixate on who we are, instead of who we become. This is a great distinction made in Tamil Sangam poetry between akam (the inner circle) and puram (the outer circle). There's simply no point in trying to make a puram film with akam constraints. Re-thinking genre will require an overhaul of what we considered biblical- this is a threshold moment, and mediocrity won't endure.
The third short ("Delivering Smiles" directed by Tanvi Gandhi) though seems to be the most comfortable of the lot, trying the least to acclimate. It is about a delivery man, his travels and travails, the sense of entitlement we have cloaked our fear in, and his optimism through this all. It's a sweet idea, delving into the interiority of a man's hope in hopeless times, but it never becomes more than its sweetness, and that hope feels too rigid to be human. Where is the human doubt in human hope?
But the most rigid of all seems to be the second short ("Will You Be My Quarantine" directed by Anubhuti Kashyap), which also tries to be the most charming, with this one night hookup ending in a month long or so courtship as they are stuck with each other unable to leave during lockdown. I am pretty sure you could have gone back home the next day or a few days later, but this is perhaps a conceit, one not entirely convincing. I use the word rigid because the dialogues and the body language feel too performative, (again, they try to make it dramatic, but it's too lite to make any impression) and I use the word charming because this is the only film in the lot that speaks to courtship (as opposed to love- in the first short Mathur is already in a relationship that looks frayed, and in the last short, the love has happened, the marriage is pending). The process of meeting someone, and getting to know them, these joys are perhaps too far in the future. The least we could ask for then, is the vicarious joy of falling in syrupy love. But alas. We must wait for better charm, the kind with less artifice, and more heart.