Autohead review: Paranoia, violence and memorable performances make for great mockumentary

Manik Sharma

Jan,02 2017 17:45:19 IST

3.5/5

There is so much to like about Autohead. It is aimed clearly at cult status, rather than fanning for a universal audience. Brave to begin with, it delivers on a number of levels. Dark vignettes, shadowy, grunge rooms, the on-off-on bleeping of mechanical sounds, and a thoroughly intriguing and devastated central character. Nearly every frame in Autohead is a carefully articulated nod to the cult; the kind that exists around debatable yet indescribable cinematic milestones such as Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver.

What Autohead achieves is debatable in itself. Labelled as a mockumentary along the lines of Man Bites Dog, Autohead begins with a crew of three, including Rohit Mittal (Director), follow Narayan, a 30-something auto driver from Mumbai. Slated to be a documentary, intended to capture the poverty and struggles of the driver, the crew tails Narayan, and his auto, on his daily routine, as he goes around the city, trading passengers for destination and money. What begins as a to-the-book human interest story begins to unravel into something exotically existential and eventually violent. Thrown in the mix is Rupa, a prostitute whom Narayan pimps out to customers, and is also conflictingly in love with. In a scene he grossly, yet defiantly admits that her whorishness only emboldens his love for her.

Screengrab from YouTube

Deepak Sambat in Autohead. Screengrab from YouTube

Narayan, as the film sets out, is a generally impoverished, have-come-to-city-with-dreams dweller that inspires so many to take the leap of faith. Living in a shoddy room, which he shares with three other men, his life is unremarkable except for his repulsive sexuality, his poverty and the dreams it squeezes him to follow. Class is admirably punctuated with its debilitating narratives in the film. Narayan does not dream small, he dreams big, for a better world, one which he will ring in, but also, contradictorily, perhaps, rule. Therein lies the dilemma of class, money and power. While even dreams are policed by the moral inclination to do good, in reality, the definition of good and just morphs with time.

There are a number of memorable scenes. Narayan’s altercation with a passenger typifies racism in our cities, especially Mumbai. His attempt to talk to a female passenger falls flat, leaving him hurt and ponderously effeminate moment of reflection. But it is a scene where his face does not even show; a scene in which a raucous, rather bullish man confronts Narayan on the street. And after he leaves, Narayan’s head hangs to a side, quiet, meditational in the din of traffic, perhaps all his life’s misery played out in front of him, contemplating the vacuum between the extreme; that quiet, quiet rage that is building up. Deepak Sambat is memorable in Autohead, and is only helped with a shining yet menacing smile. His face you won’t easily forget.

That said, there are problems with the film. For one, it is so focussed on addressing the morality of the protagonist than that of the crew, an oblique part of the narrative themselves, it completely forgets to consider. There are voice-overs that discuss what is happening with the project, but it is all too plastic and seems uninfected by the malice of the situation itself. In going for the docu-found-footage format, the filmmakers seem lost on which one to champion. At times it seems the frames exist to supply not to the narrative, but quantity. The cursory appearance of Narayan’s mother, though strong, is trivialised by its refusal to expand into anything else. The end itself is a naive attempt at kicking down the door; rather than leaving it open for quiet contemplation and impact, an impact that the film undeniably makes.

In all, Autohead definitely summons a viewing. In the genre breaking risks that the filmmakers take and courage they show in approaching class with a study of character, the film is admirable. Though it gets muddled by the end, perhaps troubled by its own categorised nature, it shouldn’t cause anyone a great deal of discomfort to find something worth their while in the film or more.

Autohead is available for viewing on Netflix

Updated Date: Jan 02, 2017 17:45 PM