Director: Sripal Sama
Writers: Saipraneeth Gouravaraju and Sripal Sama
Cast: Kaushik Ghantasala, Keegan Guy, Satya Yamini, Megan Barlow, Elester Latham, Candido Carter, Scott Young,
Runtime: 88 Minutes
Available in: Theatres
I’m sure all of us must have had a telephone conversation with a customer support executive at one point or the other. The context, tone, and purpose of the conversation might vary but a robotic coldness in the employee's voice at the end of the call is perceptible, although its degree is, once again, a variable. It’s a peculiar human interaction to examine. When they ask, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” You know that they don’t mean it but are trained—or say, programmed—to follow a specific flow to the conversion. That’s why the “Thank you and have a good day” at the fag end of the conversation always tends to be hasty. Because they have to get done with this call and switch to another call to resolve another issue faced by another consumer. It’s work; hectic and mechanical, devoid of any human touch, ironically, when the purpose of the role is to help a human. And the standout quality of Sripal Sama’s film, How Is That For A Monday?, is how it manages to beautifully address this mundane, odd equation we share with people in service-oriented roles on a daily basis. It’s unlike anything I have seen so far. It’s such a simple and often overlooked facet of everyday life that it’s surprising to see it being addressed in a film. And HITFAM is not just about these little things, it also addresses major themes like race, identity, and empowerment. The way it brings the personal and broader elements together so organically and effortlessly is a thing of beauty.
In one of the best bits from the film, Shyam (a very confident Kaushik Ghantasala) has a brief interaction with a drive-in restaurant employee who repeatedly refuses to serve food for someone when they directly walk to the counter because it’s a “drive-in only” restaurant. When Shyam questions her why she didn’t take the order of the customer despite repeated requests, she calmly reiterates with a smile that the company’s policy doesn’t allow her to do so. “Her composure is intimidating,” Shyam says, after this interaction. It’s a brilliant line because as a spectator, you can clearly see that this restaurant employee is barely acknowledging a puzzled Shyam’s frustration towards the coldness that’s seemingly overpowering the need for basic human nature and more importantly, common sense. So when he shares that he’s scared that humans are being trained to be more robotic with each passing day, you feel his vexation. The fact that HITFAM emphasises aspects that are generally deemed insignificant, without ever making its approach preachy, makes it a sweet, empathetic tale. It’s all about such trivial things in the film. “I’m going to need your complete attention. Do I have it?” asks a character in the film’s cold opening, looking straight at us. If you give your attention to the film, there are many little rewards planted here and there.
HITFAM is a very clean, simple film, both writing-wise and visually. The film follows the events in the life of Shyam, a Telugu-speaking full-stack developer in the US, on a not-so-eventual Monday. He is fired from his job that morning and it’s only the beginning of his troubles. Parallely, there’s a gang looking for a man named Christopher Carter. These two tracks eventually merge into a crime comedy that has the lightness and composure that are rarely found in thrillers. There isn’t much thrill or mystery to derive from these events and the film too never tries to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Gunshots are fired but the film is still extremely light in its tone. And the making too, keeps it all simple. Cinematography by Rahul Biruly steers clear of the urge to perform gimmicks or experiment with lighting, there are no weird screenplay choices made by Sripal Sama and Saipraneeth Gouravaraju to make their writing appear smart, Dawn Vincent’s score never overpowers the scene, there are no long takes and no negative spacing in frames… simply, there’s no attempt to create a striking visual texture or say, even a distinct frame. It’s deliberately unadorned and unpretentious. And this helps us follow the characters without any distractions. The writing, on the other hand, is highly focused on the story and its theme, and flows like a river.
With a tight runtime of 88 minutes, not even a single minute feels unwanted with every single scene and character either taking the narrative forward or contributing to its underlying theme. Detective Brandon Mayer (Candido Carter), for instance, is not just there to save Shyam when he is ambushed by the bad guys, but it is through him we learn about the prominence of a central character and his past (which are crucial to the film’s story) in a moving scene set in a car. Brandon also comes back, helping Shyam and the screenplay make a crucial choice that makes the film’s ending wholesome. And none of this comes across as a forced screenplay choice and it all plays out so naturally. It's also a film that talks so much about virtue. Shyam, for instance, is a good man. In one scene, he advises his friend against returning new shoes after he is done using them for a hiking trip. This is why when he does what he does in the end, it really isn't surprising and sits perfectly with the characterisation.
HITFAM might be a little film that harbours no lofty ambitions but what’s truly admirable about it is how neatly the writing rounds off every character and even minute dialogues. The writing is crystal clear. For instance, in one of the earliest scenes, a gang of thugs knocks on a door to break in, pretending to be from “US Postal, Express Mail” and in the film’s final scene, the shot is recreated, but this time, it’s a real mailman from US Postal at the same door. Even the mention of the athlete Jesse Owens and his inspiring story is reiterated by Shyam at the film’s tail end. And there are numerous such smart callbacks throughout the film.
HITFAM is a testament that a simple, good-hearted story, when presented with a clean screenplay and control over craft, can make for a compelling watch and move you. One doesn’t always need lavish resources at their disposal and heavy-weight drama to keep the viewer invested. Even a simple and mundane non-event like an IT guy talking to a bank’s customer support executive on a bad day can hold your attention when it is written, performed, and shot with honesty and clarity.