Director: Syed Ahmad Afzal
Cast: Tara Alisha Berry
As recently seen in Shoojit Sircar’s October, grief is little more than the sensory perception of memories even as they’re unfurling. But in the end grief is always a personal emotion; nobody else but the afflicted heart can understand the depth of it. What filmmakers can best do is create a sort of audiovisual storytelling environment that can “municipalize” this feeling – that is, make it look inclusive without compromising on its throbbing privacy. As a result, there is invariably a sound attached to such emotions – cinematically we call this “melancholic,” “meditative,” “wistful” or “quiet”. It’s these sounds – more than the images and close-ups of tearful eyes and lost souls and nature – that are designed to familiarize the viewer with their own suppressed feelings and therefore relate to a fictitious stranger’s story.
In You and I, director (also, appropriately the cinematographer) Syed Ahmad Afzal uses whispery internal dialogue, overcast weather, expansive landscapes, a sullen face and, most importantly, Mathias Duplessy’s wonderful background score to publicize the desolation of a grieving city girl. Duplessy (Finding Fanny, Laal Rang, Delhi in a Day), a French composer, has the kind of multi-instrumentalist fusion vibe that very artfully lends itself to the lonely “mindscapes” of Hindi cinema.
Here, his Gustavo Santaolalla-ish strings evocatively score the tunes of a young lady’s heavy heart. Much of the film is expressed in the language of a drifting montage – she is on her way, across highways and hills and beaches, to achieve some kind of closure after the death of her partner. We hear a subdued conversation in her head, indicating her inability to move on, somewhat reminiscent of Shah Rukh Khan’s condition in Mohabbatein.
This is not an unfamiliar template of tragedy – that of having to see numbed characters struggling to make peace with the misery of young loss, often through solitary shots of them shuffling through gloomy graveyards and empty homes, as well as through deluded figments of their imagination (spirits, flashbacks). The less melodramatic the film is, the lesser we see the actual personification of longing.
The actress, Tara Alisha Berry, who I recognize from the disastrously corny Love Games, is almost an inspired casting decision. On paper there’s not much for her to do except walk around with a de-glam face and wet eyes. But over the course of the film’s eleven minutes, her face stops seeming familiar; you stop associating her with the smuttiness of a silly erotic thriller. By the end she starts to resemble other actresses (Alia Bhatt, perhaps), overriding our mental interpretation of her fixed identity. This tends to happen in some movie experiences. At some point the performer and character meld into a presence that allows us to find reference markers without being distracted by the narrative. An example: a young Aamir Khan in his early days, and our acceptance of his boyishness through a derivative Tom Hanks prism.
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Afzal, who also directed the underrated Laal Rang, solely concentrates on the introspective composition of his protagonist – as if she were reminiscing about her depression later in life, in the form of what is essentially a sad music video. The bar, however, has already been set high in context of this film’s intent; Canadian director Denis Villeneuve immortalized this “texture” through his existential sci-fi masterpiece, Arrival, starring Amy Adams. There is no better instance than Arrival, as far as the cinematizing of grief goes.
In keeping with this tone, Afzal loses his sense of restraint in the last minute or so, succumbing to Hindi cinema’s famous epidemic of unnecessary exposition. A clunky set of lines doesn’t do the “intimacy” of his vision any favours. This is where a mainstream feature-length storyteller stands out like a sore thumb within the confines of a short film. He ends up communalizing the theme instead of internalizing it.
It is where You and I, like so many others of its kind, in its pursuit of going from mind to screen goes from moment to film.