Directors: Praveen Fernandes, Hanish Kalia, Heena D’Souza, Sanjiv Kishinchandani, Avalokita Dutt, Gaurav Mehra
Cast: Chunky Pandey, Amit Sial, Neena Gupta, Lalit Behl, Kamil Shaikh, Shahriyar Atai, Dheer Hira, Merenla Imsong, Anurita Jha
Shuruaat Ka Twist, Humaramovie’s third short-film anthology of “beginners,” comes three years after Shor Se Shuruaat and five after Shuruaat Ka Interval. The concept is novel. Six budding directors are guided by pre-eminent filmmakers of Hindi cinema – Vikramaditya Motwane, Amit Masurkar, Rajkumar Hirani and Rajkumar Gupta are the mentors here – to transform their scripts into professionally assembled short films. It can be exciting to see raw, commercially insulated voices on screen, especially with a broad theme (from interval to shor to twists) at hand. But the results, from both a paying viewer’s as well as a cinema purist’s perspective, are not always favourable. More so, given the fact that Lust Stories – the omnibus headlined by famed “mentors” – seems to have visibly shifted the way we perceive the Indian short-content landscape.
Unfortunately for Shuruaat Ka Twist, the marker now exists. This is still no excuse for the gruesome strike-rate: Only two out of the six shorts are promising, two are middling at best, while one of them – a “comedy” about an eccentric Parsi septuagenarian and a loan salesman – is infuriatingly mediocre.
Tap Tap, a short starring an old but gold Chunky Pandey as a desperate yesteryear music director, is one of two solid films. There’s often a heartbreaking honesty about the way veterans tend to play veterans on screen. You sense that some of them actually use this as an opportunity to express themselves – their resentments and their regrets, their nostalgia and their nosedives. The camera becomes a spectator. Pandey, one of my childhood favourites, was stereotyped as a goofy “side hero” in his heyday. Director Praveen Fernandes cleverly uses this real-life image – of untapped potential and a yearning for heady ‘90s fandom – to define the reel-life image of the very aptly named Kamal Kumar. Pandey uncannily replicates the seedy body language of a has-been: the silver-tongued phone calls (note the fake swag with which he concludes a chat, emoting to the air long after hanging up), the tragically greedy eyes, the nutty mood-swings, the harmonium and nylon shirts. He comes across as a character whose obscure death ends up being listed on the ent back-pages of a newspaper – one that prompts politically correct superstars and ex-colleagues to fondly reminisce about the past, mourn the fickleness of time and criticize the younger generation for neglecting a legend in need. Ironically, the only problem with this short is the climatic twist. The film could have maintained its empathetic tone, but instead chooses to suggest the undercurrents of a thriller.
A twist, in my opinion, is a dehumanizing narrative device. And it is emblematic of short-film writing, almost as a rite of passage for new storytellers who resort to shortcuts to woo audiences. Most conceive the twist first and work backward to amplify the shock value rather than employ it as a reaction to the rhythm of a story. As a result, the meat of the film looks stale and compromised, like a means to a (flashy) end. This is the fate of both Hanish Kalia’s Khauff (a short starring Amit Sial as a corporate slave with “death anxiety”) and Gaurav Mehra’s Guddu (a Punjabi bride elopes on the day of her wedding). One senses that the filmmakers are so excited about the final twist that they don’t really give much thought to the form of the narrative. Khauff is repetitive in its horror; it spends way too long focusing on crafting the suspense of its overbearing characters. Guddu is especially disappointing, with a school-level twist parading as a moment of social awareness. But it is not as tactless as Bhaskar Calling, a nonsensical film that uses a kooky old man to crack puns like “Don’t pity me, PT Usha” and a character named Bhaskar only for the title song to go: ‘Bhaskar, tu bas kar.’.
The strangest film of the lot of Avalokita Dutt’s Gutthi, visibly inspired by mentor Amit Masurkar’s Sulemani Keeda. The time-spanning short about two idealistic female filmmakers sharing a Mumbai (Yari Road?) apartment mirrors the neon-lit bylanes of the strugglers’ city and its boxed spaces of withering relationships. There’s a lack of emotional continuity to their bond, as if the chapters of a book were being scanned through to summarise the gist of it. The actresses are very interesting, but it’s hard to understand…the point of it all.
Perhaps the most accomplished of the six is Heena D’Souza’s Adi Sonal, a charming little film that adapts Sindhi folklore to a contemporary setting. Not surprisingly, it does not entertain a twist, at least not in the conventional sense of the term. It does get a little carried away with the languidness of certain scenes, as any director would, if they were afforded the belated talents of Neena Gupta and Lalit Behl in the same frame. Most cultures romanticize the banter between old couples, conveniently overlooking the patriarchy ingrained into the ‘cute’ foundation of their bickering. This short dares to update an archaic superstition by suggesting that, maybe, a widow is more relieved than aggrieved at the end of a life.
Gupta’s quiet performance speaks volumes, even as we find it difficult to sympathize with her for putting up with her household’s inherent toxic masculinity. Her equation with her daughter-in-law is resolved just as we start to lose patience with the mutual exclusivity of their fates. Their threads converge in time, elevating the film’s significance, so much so that I almost feel sorry for Adi Sonal for being buried in an avalanche of gimmicky anthologies. If only Kamal Kumar could score Sonal’s bittersweet existence. The twist, in such cases, is that neither of them needs one.