Kahanibaaz: A forgettable, nearly unwatchable short film bar Ashish Vidyarthi’s strong performance

Anupam Kant Verma

September 26, 2018 17:16:33 IST

“You can’t show everything. If you do, it’s no longer art.”

—Robert Bresson, French filmmaker

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And so, I believe, is the road that leads to mediocre, gratuitous, opportunistic filmmaking that seeks to justify its existence by resting on the moral crutches of a noble theme. The power of suggestion that Bresson vouches for isn’t simply lost in these films. Its absence becomes their very raison d’etre. It lends them a sentimental scaffolding to pontificate a host of under-cooked ideas from. Not only do they the abuse the power that is implicit within the moving image, but the sheer myopia they champion and propagate ends up defeating the entire purpose of their existence.

Ashish Vidyarthi in Kahanibaaz. YouTube screengrab

Ashish Vidyarthi in Kahanibaaz. YouTube screengrab

Kahanibaaz, the latest short film presented by Large Short Films, is a case in point. Firstly, if you take away Ashish Vidyarthi’s reliably strong performance, the film fails to provide one good reason to make it worthy of a watch. Then it proceeds to pull a stunt or two out of the cinematic playbook (think Michael Haneke), utterly wasting it in the process. Finally, and perhaps most dangerously, it revolves around the widespread malaise of domestic violence, the results of which must be clear from the first paragraph of this review.

Vidyarthi plays a driver who picks up a young couple on their way to Shirdi. He likes to talk and soon strikes up a conversation with them. A forgettable spell of poorly written dialogue later, he seems to take a dislike for the husband who, it seems, is guilty of domestic violence. The woman’s telling silences appear to hint at the discomfort between the couple. Vidyarthi, visibly antagonistic towards the husband now, tells him a story of an abusive father and his traumatised son. Notably, the scenes of domestic violence, rather any form of violence in the film, are accompanied by a horrendously inappropriate musical score that simply shouldn’t exist. Anyway, moving on, the rising tension in the car comes to a head at the end of Vidyarthi’s story. The filmmaker decides to reveal something the audience must have figured out long ago and then proceed to launch into a climax that uses all the appurtenances from the cinematic toolbox to push the cliched story.

The filmmaker hopes to represent the lasting trauma generated by an assault upon the innocence of childhood. Our protagonist is having a hard time coming to terms with it. He resorts to violence and revenge the moment he suspects a similar situation budding around him. The yawning circumference of the plot hole apart, even Vidyarthi’s presence cannot salvage anything beyond perfunctory empathy from the audience. The film also fails to present its point of view on Vidyarthi’s chosen method of coming to terms with the trauma. But that’s asking too much of a production that clearly sets out to make a film when a student essay would have done. All the elements of a middling essay are in here — torpor inducing writing; an abundance of cliches; borrowed ideas, executed poorly; thoughts that float in and out of the frame like the characters; and the Manichean setup.

Roughly twenty minutes later, it is all over. Vidyarthi’s character shall continue to wreak hell upon those who stray from the path of righteousness. More characters can be expected to jump in and out of his car, bruised and battered in the process, without showing any signs of life that can render them more than just characters. Ineffectual and stray, just like the ideas that uphold the film, they shall be forgotten, even by the creators. We, meanwhile, simply wouldn’t care while moving on to the next YouTube video. Ay, there’s the rub.

Watch the short film here:

Updated Date: Sep 26, 2018 17:16 PM