Small isn’t beautiful

Sona Jain’s For Real has silences. Silence between a harsh insult and tears, and silence shared by a sad, dysfunctional family. It’s a small film that drives on one thought: What goes on in the mind of a six-year-old when she sees and experiences the resentment, bitterness and unforgiving egos of her parents? The story has heart and truth. Unfortunately, the performances and direction can’t propel it to great cinema.

Shruti, played by Zoya Hassan, unites with her mother Priya (Sarita Choudhury) after a month. That’s because after an ugly showdown with her father, a successful doctor in Delhi (Adil Hussain), her mother had left suddenly. Shruti’s brother Paras (Sriharsh Sharma Churai), a couple of years older than her, is an astronomy geek who convinces his sister that there are aliens in this world. When Priya returns, she finds a daughter who does not speak to her or warm up to her because the girl is convinced her real mother is in the Orion galaxy, and the one in her home is an alien. While fighting her daughter’s reclusion, Priya realizes what she has become. Ravi, her husband, tries hard to make the marriage work—with tiny triumphs.

Alienated: The story has heart, but does not make for good cinema.

Jain’s cast has Choudhury, a familiar name among the New York diaspora because of her roles in Mira Nair’s films Mississippi Masala and Kama Sutra. Hussain is a theatre actor who famously played both Othello and Iago in a single production by the Delhi-based producer-director Roysten Abel’s multilingual play, Othello. Both are good actors but here, in most scenes, they seem unusually laboured. Their acting tricks are way too obvious. Hussain’s accent and dialogue delivery, for example, have the distinct stamp of an actor on stage.

The two children are better directed. But it is an awkward film overall. The centre of the film, Shruti, is the only really convincing part of the film, as a child quietly teetering on the verge of psychosis, and fighting an imagined loss. Throughout the film, it seems the director’s focus was entirely on her, leaving the adult actors to take charge of their bits. It has not worked. Shruti’s pain matters because of the relationship of her parents, and as performers, both Hussain and Choudhury are distinctly uneasy.

For Real is a lyrical ode to the nuclear family. It has a distinct visual language—unembellished and unhurried, with long scenes held by dialogues between characters. Not all of them serve a purpose, some imposing an excessive intensity on the film.

For Real is watchable, but not even close to a real indie triumph.

For Real released in theatres on Friday.