The ongoing Film Bazaar, organised by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) virtually this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic, screened a couple of movies that spoke about struggle.
The Tenant by Sushrut Jain examines what a single woman has to face in a seemingly modern city like Mumbai: right from leaching by middle-aged men, who have brazenly double standards, to young boys who are innocently curious and feel a crush for her. But 13-year-old Bharath (played with wide-eyed Rudraksh Jaiswal) is a little different.
The young woman, Meera (played by Shamita Shetty), has just moved into a housing complex. Her entry has all the ingredients of drama. As she walks into the courtyard of the building, a meeting of residents is on. But that gets thrown out of gear by Meera's attractive presence.
Bharath just adores her beauty, so natural in a teenager, and is anxious to talk to her. And when his mother asks him to take a box of sweets to a neighbour, he uses that as a pretext to knock on Meera's door. She is hesitant and having just had an argument with her boyfriend on the phone, is cold to the boy. But when he spots a painting done by her and asks why she has not put it up, Meera is moved. “It is very good”, Bharath tells her, striking a chord, and they develop a rapport – innocently beautiful.
As days pass, Meera has to face hurt and humiliation from the residents of the building; while the women are envious of her freedom, but will not admit it, the men are lusting after for her. And when they, especially the chairman of the housing society, are repeatedly repulsed by Meera, they scheme to get her out.
Jain traces the Bharath-Meera's relationship with a delicate paintbrush. There is not a single false step here, and long after her brush with the residents, Meera remembers little Bharath's friendship with a warm feeling. The boy stands out in the midst of men, who are nothing but predators.
The high point of The Tenant is Jaiswal, who essays his role with a wonderful feel and natural ease in a work that sometimes goes off track with its exaggerations. A tighter script and editing may have done the trick.
Amritangshu Chakravarty's Bengali work, Choroibeti – A Journey follows the life of Subho (Tathagata Mukherjee), who finds that his heart is in getting a film made than the doctoral thesis he enrolled for. With an ailing father at home and a mother who is bewildered at her son's lack of interest in finding a job, Subho whiles away his time in “addas” and two-timing his girlfriend, Madhurima (Sreyashi Chakraborty).
We witness the usual ups and downs in Subho's life as he knocks on the doors of prospective financiers, till his school buddy, Aniket (with the director himself playing this part), returns from the US and offers help. But both men do not bargain for the kind of impediments cinema giants would place on their path.
In recent months, we have seen how ugly the industry can get, and Chakravarty gives us a glimpse into this seedy world, where everything goes. And this includes stealing a script and passing it off as one's own and using women as sexual traps.
The movie has little novelty to offer, giving us the same old beaten story of a would-be-moviemaker's dream to make it big. The performances are passe, and yes there are lots of new faces and they do add a fresh perspective. But we needed an approach that would have taken us away from the tried and the tested. However, the entire film has been shot on a mobile telephone. Does this make Choroibeti novel?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and author of a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan)