You can sense, even without the introductory credits, which director mentored which short film. Vikramaditya Motwane’s mentorship leaks his detailing, the sudden swell of mood music in the climax, Raj Kumar Gupta’s quirk-darkness, Rajkumar Hirani’s dikra-parsi humour, Amit Masurkar’s kitten and kitchen-sink realism. It makes even the skeptics of the auteur theory — which sees the director as the author of a film, the primary style-giving figure — relent.
Shuruaat Ka Twist is the third part of the anthology-franchise, following Shuruaat Ka Interval (2014) and Shor Se Shuruaat (2016). The thread following the franchise is mentorship — established directors mentoring debutantes, lending advice as much as the shadow of their visual stamps. Shuruaat Ka Twist is a compilation of 6 short films, with no connecting thread, as such. It is the mentored production that connects the sextet, and so the films don’t add much to each other, content with the 20-25 minutes they have to tell their story and get out.
But if you see the films together, you can recognize three trends, three different ways the directors have interpreted the logic of the short form film.
The first film — Tap Tap, directed by Praveen Fernandes, starring Chunky Pandey as the old school music composer who finds himself lost and unemployed at a time of remixed nostalgia — and the last film — Guddu, directed by Gaurav Mehra, about a bride escaping on the day of her wedding — are entirely propped by that final ‘twist’ that is promised in the title of the anthology. The shock is itself a bit of a gimmick, introduced to jolt the viewer, and not to invite them to go back to the film and think through it with this new piece of information, adding depth, like that cutting gaze of Konkona Sen Sharma in Geeli Pucchi. Pandey’s performance here is emotionally acrobatic, like the background score of the film — sometimes despairing, sometimes hopeful, sometimes comical, sometimes suspenseful. The film’s tone is all over the place, and the final shock, in some sense, overshadows everything, rendering the deep stares, the desperation, the character of Pandey himself, moot, because the shock is not about him as much as it is about the owner of the flat above him. In light of the climax, the whole film leading up to it — moody and immersive if excessively scored — feels like a distraction. Guddu, the short that closes the anthology, is the least moving, because the final shock isn’t a shock as much as it is a reveal of who the characters are, and it is this revelation that becomes the most interesting thing about them.
On the other extreme, Adi Sonal, directed by Heena D’Souza and mentored by Vikramaditya Motwane, and Gutthi, directed by Avalokita Dutt and mentored by Amit Masurkar are immersive mood pieces that don’t climax as much as end. There is no shock, or a distracting plot, but instead, we have the closing of a chapter in the life of its characters, etched with rooted empathy. Adi Sonal throws us into a Sindhi household on the throes of marriage held together by its yielding yet tightly gripped matriarch Sonal, a most effective Neena Gupta. She has a chid-chid relationship with her husband — a man with stomach issues who whiles away the day in front of the television, and predicting futures from the suture lines in the palm. The film takes its time establishing who is who, injecting tension when the who-is-who game tires, and releasing its characters from the weight of their conflict before it becomes too burdensome. Gutthi, too, is clever in establishing the friendship between two aspiring directors, weaving in abuse from lovers, harassment from strangers, indifference from and to lovers, and yet centers itself around the two friends, two women who just want to make it big, bitten by despair, connected by easygoing, sororal joy. It never moralizes. In fact, it complicates the moral absolutism of issues like abuse and harassment. If this doesn’t sound like a Masurkar stamp, note the kitten that beelines the film. Both these films are startling revelations of the capacity of a short film to just breathe through the narrative without injecting tension or suspense.
In between the shocks and shards of life, there are the weakest films — Bhaskar Calling, Sanjeev Kishinchandani’s film, mentored by Rajkumar Hirani, and Khauff, Hanish Kalia’s film, mentored by Raj Kumar Gupta. Both end on a note that suggests iterations — that something which is revealed in the end will keep going on, a charade. Khauff does it with horror — a man who is haunted by ghosts and seeks a therapists’ help who is increasingly dismissive of it — which barely scares because of the odd camera angles which don’t emphasize or exacerbate the horror that the soundtrack is bent upon highlighting. Bhaskar Calling does this with humour, centered around a Parsi man, ageing into his quirk. There is no humour or horror enough to keep both films afloat, and the ending, implying a cyclical sham, doesn’t sting the way it should.
Together, the sextet does little to make a case for the anthology. If anything it gives us a glimpse at the various ways one could utilize the format to tell a story, and serves as a warning to stay away from the unearned gimmicks that might, on first glance, look sexy, edgy, daring even. But what’s the point of a sexy, edgy, daring end if the point of it is itself. A climax must close a film, it cannot be the film.