Director: Megha Ramaswamy
Cast: Yashaswini Dayama, Karanvir Malhotra, Abhay Deol
Streaming on: Netflix
A girl is named Vivek. Old people wearing red jackets dance in the middle of a street. A goldfish speaks. An apartment has pastel-coloured walls. Everyone in a shady bar is the manager. A bearded man on a terrace in a faded pant-shirt introduces himself as Amol Palekar because why not. Girls in denim suspenders swoon to a handsome middle-aged musician who sings like he’s a 1960s beatle. One of the swooners is a bear serving beer. The bear is later seen in jail. It snows in Mumbai. Where the wild things are.
I’m all for the cinema of misfits – and its whimsical, wild, winsome bouts of magic realism. After all, oddballs look at the world differently. But most modern storytellers make the mistake of designing oddness as solely a visual language. A collage of quirky indie-pop images works for, say, a 4-minute Parekh and Singh music video. But if this is extended into a 95-minute film, even oddness needs a soul – the loneliness of Amelie Poulain is what lent an edge to her delusions of grandeur. What Are The Odds, Megha Ramaswamy’s English-language Indian film about two dreamy urban teenagers who escape from an exam hall and connect over surreal adventures and stream-of-consciousness chats, is an unfortunate example of empty aesthetics. It plays out like one long and over-playful bundle of puppy energy – chasing its own tail, and eventually accomplishing nothing while wanting to be a bit of everything.
From the very first frame, it’s obvious that girl Vivek (Yashiswini Dayama, whose babyface has consigned her to a lifetime of schoolgirl roles) and boy Ashwin (Selection Day’s Karanvir Malhotra) are eccentric graffiti figures on the canvas of the director. They act strangely, walk strangely, think strangely, almost like they sense that Wes Anderson might be watching and judging them. Weirdness is nice, but it’s the film’s obvious effort to be weird that’s weirder. At one point, Ashwin confronts Vivek with words that somewhat diagnose the film’s illness too: You think you can break rules because it gives you a sense of existential purpose? You think it’s charming?
There’s plenty of optic surface-level magic, but nothing that roots the kids to an inner realism. There’s also plenty of attention-less banter and innocent pondering (“I want to vote for movies and art and music and something I believe in”), but nothing that reminds us of the teens’ flesh and blood. Except for a quiet conversation about a father who abandoned Vivek in her childhood, very little of the pretty film actually earns a lovely line towards the end: “What are the odds that a boy like you would want to hang out with a girl like me?” It’s a classic hipster Juno-meets-Submarine moment, but it’s hard to really cheer for the characters when they’ve been so busy splashing bright globs of paint over a concrete wall for more than an hour. I meant that figuratively, but even if they did it literally nobody would be able to tell the difference.
Yes, there’s Abhay Deol playing the stubbled older heartthrob that Vivek has a crippling crush on. But even for Deol’s trademark left-of-field-ness, this film is way too left of field. It may have a cozy, homegrown vibe to it – especially a strange (there’s that term again) house-party scene featuring a baffled-looking Monica Dogra – but I can’t quite get over this film’s lack of feeling. Sometimes, the act of stringing together a tune of cute, unpretentious vignettes can come across as pretentious. Despite names like Shimit Amin, Dhruv Sehgal and Sagar Desai attached in different creative capacities, it’s all very pointless. What are the odds?