Ralang Road movie review: Karma Takapa reveals malaise of crime, violence hiding under Sikkim's veneer

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Oct,12 2017 21:19 15 IST

3/5

The 19th edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is finally here, and with it comes an unending list of critically acclaimed Indian and international films to watch. Some of these are submissions for the Oscars, while others are hitherto untold, hyperlocal stories. Firstpost will review the most promising of these films.

Writer-director Karma Takapa’s feature film is set in Sikkim. Ralang Road made headlines earlier this year when it became the first Indian film in 13 years to be selected for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. It will also be screened at MAMI this year.

The film opens with a visual of a dark, foggy forest but the fog does not really lift – metaphorically speaking –throughout the film.

Set between the Rabong and Borong areas, an ensemble of actors are seen grimacing from the cold and navigating challenging terrain – either seeking road transport, clambering over rubble or furtively running through the uneven streets of a small town.

A still from Ralang Road. Youtube screengrab

A still from Ralang Road. Youtube screengrab

As Takapa takes us deeper into the stories of his characters, we realise that the outward innocence and the veneer of respectability and concern hides something dark and worrisome. Scratch the surface – of the idle teenagers reciting poetry, or the concerned taxi driver or the migrant maths teacher – and you will find myriad issues. There is also a mystery about a missing man and a sinister lottery den madame.

Three stories unfold during the same day in the same town, and through them, Takapa touches on the deep malaise of alcoholism, rampant petty crime, gambling and cold-hearted violence. All this spins around on a twisted moral compass.

Combining humour – black and the regular kind – with drama, the structure of the screenplay of Ralang Road attempts to weave in all the strands, but not always convincingly or with satisfactory explanation. At one point, the director adopts a Shakespearean/folk storytelling style – indulgently changing the camerawork, editing, and accompanying music. What is commendable, however, are the largely believable performances (a mix of professional actors and amateurs) and the realistic presentation of an area under development. You might expect vast landscapes and pictures of an idyllic hill station, but this ‘Ralang Road’ is far from being a travelogue. It’s high on atmospherics laced with a humour that is not apparent at-once.

A still from Ralang Road. Youtube screengrab

A still from Ralang Road. Youtube screengrab

A Hindi-speaking immigrant teacher is out on a date. He admires a plastic flower while she plays Candy Crush. The phone chiming ‘Tasty’ as he bites into a meat dish is, however, a low hanging fruit. There’s also a kitten that keeps showing up in various locations.

Some scenes are distinctly David Lynch, others more authentic and often audacious. One of my favourite is set in a barber’s shop as a mouthy child indulges in a facial. (Let’s be honest, cucumber on the eyes never stops being funny.) At first you think the child is just precocious, but nothing is quite as it seems in Takapa’s Sikkim.