March 16 2016
Film starring Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin wows closing gala audience at the London Asian Film Festival…
SHIV (Naseeruddin Shah) and Tara (Kalki Koechlin) are in very different places, both in life and as people in this film.
The older man is a professor of some sort – it is never made clear, though he has a level of medical knowledge which suggests he is a scientist, while Tara is your somewhat typical (if there is) Mumbai girl about town.
Their paths would never cross normally, but they find themselves confined initially, to an extremely lonely vigil.
Shiv’s wife, Pankaja (Suhashini Mani Ratnam*) has long been in a coma and shows little signs of improvement. Tara’s husband Rajat (Arjun Mathur) is also in a deep coma and has suffered serious brain injuries after a car crash in Kochi, Kerala, where this film is set and where Rajat was away on business.
Menon and cinematographer Neha Parti Matiyani get the most from the beautiful back drop – and the hospital (a real one) looks and feels more like a 5-star hotel. The physical beauty of Kerala and the pristineness of the hospital contrast deeply with the torrid emotions both characters are experiencing.
It’s true that Shiv has in some ways come to terms with his plight – but Menon skilfully shows that he hasn’t really and in doing so, is actually in a comfort zone of his own sweet construction.
Momentarily, it is disturbed by Tara who is much more lost. Newly married, she just can’t accept her husband may be gone and forever.
Both actors do justice to the film and there are definite echoes of the Hollywood 2003 film “Lost in Translation” with Bob Harris (Bill Murray) as the older, worn movie star who chances upon Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) as a bored and rather listless newly-wed in a Tokyo in which they are both lost and drifting…
Transfer the physical predicament of that film with the more emotional one here and a much more seductive backdrop, and you understand that these characters cannot be themselves and find solace in the other.
There are some lovely touches of humour along the way, but Menon rather sidesteps the physical attraction between Shiv and Tara (perhaps that’s another level of complication, not required here, but in a western context, probably unavoidable).
In the Q&A after the film, Menon said the film had been inspired by a personal experience of hers many years ago and the filmmaker does communicate a strong sense of loneliness and helplessness, experienced by those who find themselves in such distressing situations.
The slight stench of death the whole way through can be a trigger for emotions best left unvisited, if you’ve ever been through a similar situation – but one cannot deny that Menon has produced a film of meaning and substance.
She gently explores issues around euthanasia, doctor-patient communication, medical ethics and does poke a critical finger at systems where medical care involves payment – especially in the Indian context, where there is increasing uneasiness about the way some doctors and hospitals elevate profit above care.
Some may find the ending unsatisfactory, but as Menon argued it’s more respectful to the film as a whole. It does meander at times, a little too caught up in its own musings, but the strong performances and characterisation prevent it from being anything substantial or irritating.
There are a few, minor jarring notes but, all in all, this is a decent film which has much to recommend it, provided you like your films with lots of emotion and dialogue, and not too much in the way of action or plot.
It is not an art film as a member of the audience claimed afterwards and Menon clarified – but nor it is a commercial film, where formulaic devices are often employed to entertain and distract for the central purpose of making money (and nothing wrong with that too). Sailesh Ram
Review of ‘Journey to her Smile’
IN THIS 71-minute film made by first time director/writher Sucheta Phule, her central character, Revati (Girija Oak) has made it.
A career she loves, a husband who loves her and five-year-old daughter Anaya (Anahita) they both adore. Then five words trigger her downward spiral into numbness, anger and misery: ‘Your daughter has been raped’.
From that moment on, a black hole descends around her as she struggles to communicate with Anaya, husband Aditya (Aastad Kale) or anyone else. Until months later while walking down the street, she witnesses two teenage girls being groped and teased by men. As she runs to protect them, her anger erupts and thus begins her journey to smile once again.
Child rape in India has become a focal talking point in recent times and ‘Journey to Her Smile‘ handles the issue well, while highlighting the continuing naivety and poor attitudes generally towards child abuse in India. (Dimple Pau)
ACV rating:** (Out of five)
*’Journey To Her Smile’ was screened as part of the London Asian Film Festival 2016 (March 4-March 13)