Director: Sanjeev Vig
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Avantika Akerkar, Shishir Sharma, Shriswara, Bhuvan Arora, Khushboo Upadhyay
Rogan Josh, directed by Sanjeev Vig, is a 17-minute short film with a twist towards the end. It begins with a man named Vijay (Naseeruddin Shah) cooking up a feast – the titular Kashmiri dish makes for the film’s most beautiful image – to bring in his 65th birthday with his family. On the table sits his elegant wife (Avantika Akerkar), his boisterous best friend (Shishir Sharma), the friend’s younger girlfriend (Shriswara), and his pensive son (Bhuvan Arora). The true nature of this occasion – one that is filled with a little melancholy, respect and a tinge of (visible) regret – is only revealed in the final few minutes.
As we know, dinner-table conversations in Indian households often make for the most engaging behavioral cinema. Subject to the magnitude of this event, you can sense the secrets, stories, power equations and cultural personality of a particular home by simply observing its inhabitants go about this routine. There’s something about sharing the day’s last spread of food that enables the eaters to take stock of their emotions and subconsciously “review” their relationships. In this context, Rogan Josh chooses the right setting for the sort of ‘truth’ it sets out to convey. Nowhere else would a father find a way to taunt his son during a celebratory meal. Nowhere else would a mother try to diffuse the tension with a reference to work.
It then becomes all about how this exchange, from beginning to end, is scripted. The film is shot well, but the effect of a narrative twist is always measured by the exposition degree of the writing that preludes it. Are the clues organically inserted into the banter? Is the chat too “designed” to pass off as a regular – yet mysteriously different – night? Do the words suit the temperament of a casual meeting? Are all the half-sentences and enigmatic responses too disruptive? For instance, when Vijay’s wife initially teases him in the kitchen, we learn a lot about him – that his full name is Vijay Kapoor, he is a professional chef at the Taj, his son is 30 years old and always late (“the one time he should have been late,” Vijay sadly trails off), he resents his son, and that two minutes can be the difference between life and death – through their playful dialogue. This is information that is perhaps vital to the core of the story, but the writers must always find a way to convey this to the viewer without making it look like they want us to know.
Here, that isn’t always the case – some of the lines feel deliberately planted, and the revelation is a bit spelt out during the end credits, as if they were dramatically catering to the audience rather than reacting to each other. If not for the caliber of senior actors at the table, the film might have “sounded” too manipulative. Their pauses and little twitches fortunately express what their voices cannot.
In fact, some of the film’s finer hints are embedded in its visuals – an old-school ‘Victoria’ clock, the arrival of a low-key but evocative young woman (Khushboo Upadhyay), and her faint smile at the sight of the dish. These silences make a difference, and save this from being just another gimmicky short. After all, it’s a crime to speak while tucking into a perfectly cooked Rogan Josh.