Buddha.mov movie review: Kabir Mehta’s shifting authorship makes film unexpected, riveting
In Buddha.mov, Kabir Mehta shifts between documentary and fiction to create a fascinating hybrid
No one speaks for the first 10 minutes of Kabir Mehta’s 70-minute film, Buddha.mov. The camera simply stands some distance away and observes a young man as he goes about his day. We learn that he’s into fitness, plays cricket and has a way with women. The camera stands discreetly at a distance but captures the most private and intimate moments – in bed with a woman, soaking in a bathtub etc.
Before going to sleep, this man spends a few minutes checking his online profiles, including vanity surfing his own Wikipedia page. Through this device of screens, we know him to be Buddhadev Mangaldas, a cricketer and celebrity in Goa. We also know that he’s a narcissistic 27-year-old with a Tinder account, a hyperactive libido and a list of conquests.
Mehta shifts between documentary and fiction to create a fascinating hybrid. He simply sets the camera (cinematography by Reebok Singh) in one spot, like a voyeur observing someone from afar, and lets Buddha do the rest. He revels in the idea of becoming a movie star, but also demonstrates a hint of embarrassment imagining his family’s reaction to the footage. He boasts about the number of women he has slept with, and also devises an algorithm by which he can stay connected with them.
Screenshots of phone chats and voice mails reveal more details of Buddha’s personality. Driven by testosterone and adrenaline, he lives a hedonistic life. His brashness is captured when the camera travels with him in his speeding vehicle down Goa’s poorly lit, narrow streets. Buddha is so audacious that you want to meet him to know if he is for real.
Besides his focussed brand building exercise as a sex symbol and movie star, which overtakes his sporting achievements, there are scenes that embody Buddha’s flawed rhetoric. He trips over this when he tries to explain his twisted logic of parenthood and fatherhood to an older couple.
Eventually you realise that Mehta is being ironic in his “hybrid between documentary and fiction”. Maybe Buddha is so unabashed in front of the camera because the director is his cousin. Or maybe the film is a surrogate advertisement for Buddha’s profession. He gives up poorly paid cricket for the more lucrative family-run real estate business, which is given a fair amount of screen-time.
Buddha’s surrender to the film – occasionally guiding it, sometimes manipulating it, but never shying away, combined with Mehta’s exploration of shifting authorship and the hypocrisy around morality make Buddha.mov unexpected and riveting.
At other times, I felt the filmmaker is taking the mickey, observing the viewer’s reaction to this experiment, or testing limits of how far he can push the visuals and narrative in the wide berth given to ‘art’ films. Mehta might be doing both, or neither.
Editor's note: The 20th 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. Firstpost will review the most promising of these films.
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