Listener movie review: An empathetic tale that slips in a charming twist at the end

Anupam Kant Verma

Apr,22 2018 11:22:41 IST

4/5

Buoyed by Kumud Mishra’s stirring central performance, Listener leapfrogs into the ranks of the strongest films released under the banner of Large Short Films. Mishra is ably assisted by a strong supporting cast, including the ever reliable Shashank Arora. Director Tarun Dudeja displays a welcome command over cinematic language and navigates the film’s many emotional registers with aplomb. The filmmaker’s unwavering faith in his story and its expert telling underlies a film that — mercifully for once — doesn’t disappoint with its final twist. The end result is an empathetically crafted film whose commitment to its characters blazes through the warp and weft of its narrative.

As is the case with the best of films, the lesser revealed about its plot the better. Mishra plays a professional Listener at a restaurant. His job appears deceptively simple. Sit across a table and listen to the patrons talk. He charges by the hour and, at the end of the day, returns to his family, seemingly carrying the stories of tens of people yearning for nothing more than an empathetic ear.

Posters for Listener. Images courtesy Twitter/@LargeShortFilms

Posters for Listener. Images courtesy Twitter/@LargeShortFilms

Dudeja’s great achievement lies in drawing out the essence of the story through this setup and laudably skipping from one emotional register to another without messing with the tone of the film. The people come from all corners of the megacity that is Mumbai, whose stories and problems are as different as chalk and cheese. By creating a central character who seems to be the repository of these varied accounts of life in a city getting fatter by the minute, and owing especially to the charming twist at the end, Dudeja’s film is elevated beyond the apparent simplicity of its setup. The director’s expert handling of the material ensures that the subtlety with which the message of the film ought to be conveyed is never lost in the maze of these varying accounts of people’s lives.

The actors, barring slight hiccups here and there, are at the top of their game. The director is aware of the talent at his disposal and expertly ensures that the poignancy of certain stories that surround Mishra’s central figure never draws the attention away from him for too long. For this is Mishra’s story, a man who sits day in and day out listening to people as they pile on their miseries, their happiness, love and lust, disappointments and despair before him, and every single one of them supposedly a stranger. Is he as immune to the people’s individual sufferings as the city itself? Does he stow these tales away somewhere within him, like the seldom visited lanes of the city where the light doesn’t reach them? Or will he be crushed under this immense weight someday? Mishra’s characteristically sterling performance adds a whole new dimension to the central theme of the film.

Shot almost entirely in the interior, the director uses the distinct atmosphere of a fine dining restaurant to his advantage. The film draws you in from the first frame onwards and refuses to let go, slipping in a charming twist at the end with consummate ease. The sheer mischief implicit in the event and the aplomb with which it is lodged into the narrative deserve applause. For Listener, by the time you’re through with it, heralds the arrival of a promising directorial talent whose dexterity and imagination leaves us hoping for more such stories on the screen in the years to come. It is a film that respects its audience, stays true to its characters, gets the fundamentals right, takes a brave leap of imagination or two and lingers in the mind for hours. And as far as this writer is concerned, it comes highly recommended.

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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2018 11:22 AM