Attack of the ‘art house’
Sanjay Gupta’s White Feather Films branches out to a banner meant for independent, experimental, “art house” cinema with two films, The Great Indian Butterfly and Pankh. Both films, under the banner of White Feather Arthouse Films, have been directed by debutants and are unlike anything that Gupta has produced before. As producer, Gupta has never really been a maverick. His own films, such as Kaante (2002), Zinda (2006) and Acid Factory (2009), have been similar in look and treatment—he manufactures cosmetic grunge, a poor imitation of Tarantino-esque visual flair.
The Great Indian Butterfly and Pankh are different, though not necessarily better. The first, directed by Sarthak Dasgupta, is a marital drama—an urban Indian marriage in the throes of a meltdown—set partly on the road, and partly in Goa. He finally ties the conflicts between the two into a neat knot, with a pseudo-philosophical end (a message). The second is an awkward, indulgent and symbolism-ridden story of a child artiste’s thorny voyage to self-discovery.
The Great Indian Butterfly
The mythical butterfly in question is mentioned in the Mahabharat. It’s said to be fluttering somewhere in the wild of the Cardiguez valley in Goa. It’s the harbinger of peace, something that the two protagonists of the film, Meera (Sandhya Mridul) and Krish (Aamir Bashir), are frenetically in search of.
From the first scene, we realize it’s a marriage going sour. Both are busy professionals mired in the highs and lows of a successful profession—the writer-director is convinced that being an ambitious professional is an antidote to personal happiness, the road to madness. The office is the demon that hovers around Meera and Krish as they drive to Goa for a holiday.
Two’s not company: Bashir and Mridul play the stressed couple in The Great Indian Butterfly.
The?journey is punctuated?by bursts of anger and bitter verbal attacks which are supposed to reveal their dissatisfaction with each other. “You will never understand me”, is almost a verbal refrain in the script.
The story does have a ring of truth. There are scenes and moments in the film that ooze genuine existential tension. There is a Meera and a Krish that we all perhaps know—the director certainly does. But despite the verisimilitude (only for young, urban audiences), the story doesn’t hold up.
The film is entirely in English, and some of the dialogues sound contrived in the attempt to be conversational. To begin with, there are too many dialogues—Meera and Krish talk, talk and talk more; there is no respite. When a writer depends entirely on dialogues to propel the plot and convey emotions, the film is bound to put the viewer off—perhaps even insult him. The film has little of that great tool which works wonderfully in enhancing the interpretation of urban existential issues—humour.
Mridul overemphasizes the weaknesses of Meera, who is anyway a bundle of frazzled nerves, as if to make the audience understand her better. The woman is ultimately shown to be the bane of this relationship, but it turns out to be an overacted role.
Bashir is awkward and restrained in turns. The story of the couple is intercut by monologues and soliloquies of a white man (Barry John) who seems to know a great deal about the butterfly.
The Great Indian Butterfly has honesty; the director’s only strength is his engagement with his characters. He stays with them and tries very hard to make them believable, but unfortunately, they end up creating more noise than beauty.
Sudipto Chattopadhyay’s Pankh, and Gupta’s second art-house offering this week, is a difficult film to explain. The story is about a child artiste in Mumbai’s film world whose mother, a failed actor, forces him to play roles of little girls. The mother (Lilette Dubey) is hopeful that one day, her son Jerry (Maradona Rebello) will become a superstar. But Jerry’s psyche is scarred beyond repair. He talks to turtles. He talks to a fantasy—the apparition of a famous film star named Nandini (Bipasha Basu).
Chattopadhyay is trying to say too much and do too much in his debut film—most of it driven by faux intellectual drivel and a servile love of everything “European artsy”. He uses trite symbolism (a scene of Jerry’s altercation with his mother is followed by a black and white scene of Jesus stumbling across a barren forest with a huge cross on his shoulders) and non-linear, jarring storytelling. There are biblical references, references to the Oedipus complex, even Shakespeare. In a moment of extreme empathy, a film director quotes King Lear to describe Jerry: “He is more sinned against than sinning.” I laughed out loud.
Other-worldly: Basu is an elaborately-styled fantasy in Pankh.
Basu appears in nine avatars styled elaborately—gawdy, feathery costumes, fiery red lipstick and clunky jewellery that looks like metal gear.
It’s easy to react strongly to a film like Pankh simply because it does not facilitate a critique—it begs to be taken seriously, but fails to engage. Often the most difficult job of a film-maker is to forget who he is to make the story breathe and live on screen. Chattopadhyay is too absorbed in movie textbooks to be a real film-maker.
The Great Indian Butterfly and Pankh released in theatres on Friday.