First is an issue with semantics. Can we call Tryst With Destiny an 'anthology'? The genre — which has been marred by repeated execution where 1 good film out of 4 is the average success rate — thrives on patching together unrelated, or hazily related films under the guise of something banal like "Lust" "Horror" "Weird" "Sins" "Mumbai Cab" or the most egregious version of it — "Emotions". The order of these films rarely mattered. They usually just put the most high profile director's film towards the end — Karan Johar or Gautham Vasudev Menon. The stories within an anthology often have no bearing on the other, no unfinished conversation they complete, no conversation they leave unfinished, to be completed by the succeeding film. This is because streaming platforms have often used the anthology format as a quick way to concoct a film — each part of the anthology being cooked in a separate silo, simultaneously.
But Tryst With Destiny is an anthology the way Ship Of Theseus was an anthology — again, it's not really an anthology, but that seems to be the least inaccurate way to describe it — where multiple stories come together for a hot, hazy second under a stylistically, directorially, thematically consistent hand. All four short films of Tryst With Destiny were written and directed by Prashant Nair, shot by Avinash Arun, edited by Xavier Box. They feel like one film trying to say many things as opposed to many films trying to say one thing.
Tryst With Destiny, presented as a triptych at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2020, won an award for the best screenplay. Here, it is chopped into four episodes, each one leaking into the next such that the ending of the previous film can be seen in the later one — either as a radio commentary, or a short cameo.
The differences the film investigates — rural-urban, rich-poor, fair-dark — is the least convincing part of the film, for there is nothing new, profound, or provocative here, like a theme in search of a story. The titular speech of Nehru frames the film in a way that could be done without — we see footage of Nehru reading it in the beginning, and at the end we see a child reading the same speech. The connection to the film itself is so tenuous as to almost not exist.
Instead the film lets us marinate in a world that is luxuriantly filmed. Avinash Arun's cinematography elevates the "slow burn" to a mood piece. The way he captures the layers of moss on the arms of a tree reaching out into the dead night, or the icy blue of the sky about to break out in daylight, or the face of a man who is hearing his wife being raped but has nothing by way of caste, class, or constitution that he can hold onto and employ for justice, or simply a newly wed husband and wife staring at the bride's father in distaste for making the wedding happen. The jaundiced light of a bar, or the cool, cutting air of a posh hotel, it's equally compelling to look at. If there was a level playing field, it is this equally moving visual articulation of every kind of space. There is also the detailing which is subtle and unassertive — the azaan in the background of a house two characters named Kuber and Laxmi are trying to buy or the crumbling ash collecting on a cigarette not ashed yet because the smoker is preoccupied.
The four films — Fair And Fine follows Mudiraj (Ashish Vidyarthi) as the Telugu train station tea seller turned baron, who is not able to shake off his skin colour, realizing that status and respect comes from skin colour too; The River where a Dalit couple (Vineet Kumar Singh, Kani Kusruti) live alone on the outskirts of a village, trying to cobble together courage and dignity to leave; One BHK where a police officer (Jaideep Ahlawat) trespasses the limits of legality to get money for a deposit on a house with his lover (Palomi Ghosh); A Beast Within where a government officer (Gitanjali Thapa) and a village ruffian (Amit Sial) stand off to take custody over a man eating tiger caged in a wooden crate — seesaw between urban and rural. Arun's camera throbs with love in the rural stories, a throwback to Killa where he gorged on the landscape with his eye for moody, meditative frames. Some might call it slow-burn but there is nothing burning here. Just that it allowed me to disengage from the story, or it allowed the story to be lazy or quick or unresolved or un-cathartic. Because the collective impact was that of beauty. And maybe that's enough.