Dan Walia (Varun Dhawan) is a trainee at a Delhi hotel. His name-badge merely refers to him (and his batch-mates) as “understudy". This is clearly not a role Dan wants in his life. Yet, here he is, making beds, serving coffee, lining up wine glasses, washing dirty linen. Dan cares for none of it. He stomps on towels, antagonizes colleagues, rebels against authority repeatedly. Why? Well, because that’s who he is – a man-child who wants to take the fast track from understudy to headlining act.
Dan shares a modest apartment with trainee friends. They’re all pretty normal and mostly dedicated to their chosen profession. Then, one day, a freak accident renders their friend Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) comatose, teetering between life and death. Dan is deeply affected by this event. Although he’s unable to reconcile to the near-servitude required in the hospitality industry, Dan becomes entrenched in her care and recovery. He builds a bond with the nurses and with Shiuli’s family while neglecting his own career and life.
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi and director Shoojit Sircar explore the relationships and connections formed between those sharing the rollercoaster ride of emotions experienced in waiting rooms and at ICU bedsides. It’s an atmosphere dependent on hope and tinged with loss. The juxtaposition of a hotel and hospital is interesting as both are spaces where service is delivered unquestioningly.
However, October is not a story about Shiuli. It’s the story of those who orbit around her as she lies motionless. Scenes featuring Shiuli’s mother, Vidya Iyer (Gitanjali Rao), Shiuli’s sister and the doctors are among the most moving in the film. This is the coming-of-age story of a temperamental boy’s journey to manhood as he learns the meaning of responsibility.
It takes a few scenes to expel preconceived notions about Dhawan and it’s commendable that he’s stepped out of his comfort zone. Dan is on the cusp of manhood but is also holding on too tightly to pubescent petulance. Dhawan delivers this character with conviction but his reading of Dan’s motivations and inner thoughts doesn’t run very deep. Sandhu rises to the challenge of conveying so much while seemingly being able to do so little. As a still, helpless girl hooked up to tubes and machines, she manages to project a living soul.
Avik Mukhopadhyay’s camerawork beautifully captures the intensity of the hospital, the transitory dynamics of a hotel and a quieter Delhi through changing seasons. Shantanu Moitra’s score underlines the mood. Chaturvedi uses the night jasmine flower (also known as Shiuli or Parijat), with its short lifespan, as a metaphor in this brooding and meditative piece that lingers on with you, mostly because of how close to reality it is.
Sircar and Chaturvedi leave a great deal unsaid, and it’s within those spaces that the audience seeks answers – about the transactional nature of relationships, about expectations, commitment and the impermanence of life.