Abyakto movie review: The beauty of Arjunn Dutta's mother-son tale lies in its simplicity
Arpita Chatterjee puts in a terrific performance in Abyakto, a film that is sure to enthral you with its charm
castArpita Chatterjee, Adil Hussain, Anubhav Kanjilal, Anirban Ghosh, Lily Chakravarty, Kheya Chattopadhyay
The best stories ever told are the ones which have been told in simple words. Simplicity has no alternative. There is something magical about it, something that works every single time. If your story has strength, then telling it in the simplest way possible is the most intelligent thing you can do. Debutant filmmaker Arjunn Dutta seems to understand this fact, and we know he does because his first feature film Abyakto (The Unsaid) is a simple tale of the relationship between a mother and her son – one that will blow your mind away with its inherent strength.
The story begins with a dream – one in which a mother negligently lets a young boy out of her sight, resulting in the poor boy getting lost in a labyrinth of lanes and by-lanes of the city. It is this recurring dream that haunts Indra – now a young man in his twenties living and working in Delhi. He has a strained relationship with his mother Sathi, who is now a widow, and who lives alone in their ancestral house in the city of Kolkata. Indra’s live-in partner is a college lecturer – a caring and compassionate young woman who implores him to sort things out with his mother. As the story progresses, we learn what exactly caused Indra to be so impassive towards his mother. Through flashbacks, Dutta shows us glimpses of a woman who is perpetually on the edge of her temper, not only towards her only son, but also towards her husband and his close friend, who she thinks is too interfering in matters of her family. A controlling mother, Sathi will leave no stone unturned in order to raise Indra in her own way, leaving the poor child no freedom at all. Now a grown man, Indra returns to his mother to find her a changed woman – weary and weathered. While she makes all efforts to reach out to her estranged son, the boy remains cold and distant, despite a storm raging within him. When he does confront his mother and accuses her of ruining his childhood, she remains adamantly unrepentant, which threatens to increase the distance between mother and son even further, till an unexpected turn of events changes things forever.
The film begins at a slow pace, and for the first fifteen minutes or so, there is a bit of a tug of war with the audience, almost as if it’s trying to grab your attention. But once you are hooked, there’s no escape. All that the director does for the rest of the film is to reel you in, and then pluck at your heartstrings as much and as often as he desires. And what’s surprising is that you enjoy the act of submitting to his whims, to let the film draw you into itself and then enthral you with its charm. It’s not a grand film, almost the entire story takes place in one house in the middle of the monsoons, but what had seemed as an uncomfortably slow pace in the beginning now begins to seem magical, as layer by layer, petal by petal, you try to get to the bottom of it all. Why was Sathi cruel to her child? Was she a psychotic mother? Was she trying to pass on her own fears, her own insecurities to her child? Was her behaviour towards her family and friends justified? Did she find the well-wishers too interfering because she was afraid of something? You constantly keep asking yourself – why is she the way she is? And what made her change? Has she changed, after all? Or is that an illusion too, because she is now at an age when she has nowhere else to go, and no one else but her only child to fall back upon? What is it that we are failing to see?
It is not easy to make a simple film, or to tell a simple story. Filmmakers are essentially conmen. It is their job to show you things that do not exist, to present a larger-than-life picture of reality. But Arjunn Dutta does not take that route at all. He could have easily made this into a melodramatic piece, but he treats his script with the restraint it deserves. And in the climax, he literally pulls the rug out from under our feet. The flowing cinematography by Supratim Bhol, the soothing classical music in the background by Soumya Rit, comprising mainly of oriental instruments, the excellent editing by Sujay Datta Ray – everything works together to raise the film to a commendable pedestal. But a special mention has to be given to the performances.
Anubhav Kanjilal is admirable in the role of Indra – the son who wants to feel for his mother, but whose childhood memories won’t let him. Watch him closely and you’ll see how beautifully he portrays the little nuances, the duel that he is fighting with himself. He is bitter towards his mother, but won’t smoke in front of her. He hates the sight of her, but will let his guard down once in a while to come and sit next to her. In his own words, he is tired of this dichotomy. In one moment, he feels a sense of filial affection towards his mother, and in the next some unpleasant shard of memory comes flying towards him, piercing both his love and his sanity. I had seen him previously in Abar Basanta Bilap – a rather silly film in which he was not only grossly underutilised, but one which had left a bad impression on my mind. But kudos to director Arjunn Dutta for extracting the best out of him. Clearly, the young man has much to offer, and we are all willing to see more of him.
As expected, Adil Hussain is stellar in his short but important role as a friend of the family. His calm and towering presence in the life of Indra is inspiring and one of the rare fond memories of his childhood. In a bit role written with astounding ingenuity, Pinky Banerjee is absolutely marvellous as the dim-witted but well-meaning domestic help, Chanda. Every time she comes on screen, she steals the show. And Kheya Chattopadhyay brings great affection to a role that is difficult to play, being ‘away’ from the centre of attention, where the story is unfolding.
But if there’s one person on whose able shoulders the film solely rests – it has got to be Arpita Chatterjee, as Sathi. Putting in a terrific performance that will move you and leave you with a lump of emotion in your throat, she is rude and haughty in one scene, loving and caring in the next – without making the transition seem even the least bit jarring. How has she managed to pull off such a complex role? Beats me. But she is a treat to watch – with her irritability and grit as the young Sathi, her worn out demeanour as the old Sathi, and her ethereal beauty as both. As she closes the film reciting a few apt lines from a poem by Tagore, it is literally impossible to hold back your tears. Her performance is one of the best I have seen in a Bengali film this year, and if she does not sweep out all the awards, then there is no justice in this world.
Abyakto is one of those rare films where the filmmaker is fortunate enough to have a lead actor carry the film for him, and where the lead actor is fortunate enough to work with a director who has extracted one of the career best performances from her. And it has all happened in the context of a simple tale, told with deserving simplicity.
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