October: Varun Dhawan's performance is rehearsed yet nuanced in Shoojit Sircar's autumnal tale
Screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi created Bhashkor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan's senile, 70-year-old character in Piku) who pleaded his daughter not to subject him to a ventilator in the autumn of his life. And in Shoojit Sircar's October, she also creates — with equal conviction — Dan (Varun Dhawan); a hotel management trainee in his early 20s, who believes his friend Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) would want to hold on to life at any cost, in any state.
Discerning viewers would label Juhi as conflicted on the burning issue of passive euthanasia. But with October, she shows that she does not care. Her film transcends logic, debate and even ethics. It is touted as a story about love.
More than love, October propositions itself as a story about hope.
Shiuli meets an unfortunate accident (not a road accident as is the norm) and finds herself in coma. Her colleague Dan, who shared a cordial-at-best relationship with her, vows to be by her side through thick, thin and everything in between. While their other colleagues, who were more close to Shiuli, give up on her; he fails to get back to all that's mundane by 'moving on'.
Now, the hope vs resignation, or the heart vs head battle, has been explored in films like Waiting, Guzaarish and even Piku. But where October rebels is the relationship between the survivor and the companion. He is not even sure if she loves her. All he knows is he cares for her. He risks his career by walking out of his training and distances himself from friends who have put blinkers on for the sake of sanity.
Dan is unlike all Shoojit Sircar protagonists. Dhawan plays it like Akshay Kumar has portrayed many of his too-pure-to-be-serious characters, for instance in Houseful and Welcome, though in tune with rhythm of Sircar's seamless poetry. There's this niggling thing though, of Varun's accent (that two of his other colleagues have as well). It makes them sound like they are tipsy. Case in point: "Uss ko coma mein dekh ke toh mera hawa tight ho gaya" (please spare me the pain of translating).
Dhawan portrays a dichotomy of laid back body language and proactive behaviour with a sincerity that seems manufactured. Sircar seems to have cast his shadow on Dhawan, which is why the star is visibly out of his comfort zone. But kudos to Dhawan for his consistency. Notwithstanding the inorganic acting, he does not get trapped by his superstar persona. Also, he does not mouth his dialogues as a tapori just to prove that he is a guy from the streets a la Judwaa 2. His naive act is nuanced, even if rehearsed.
A lead actor's achievement is in performing better than the supporting cast, where he fails. Debutante Banita Sandhu has few dialogues as she remains confined to her bed, and her face fixated at a clean slate. But to her credit, she does register her presence as her emotions break out of her listless face, without the crutch of translating into expressions. A special mention to the actress who plays Shuili's mom (Gitanjali Rao). She brings gravitas to her role of a resilient mother.
Another character that does have a lengthy screen time is Nature. The lens, under Shoojit's command, chronicles the seasonal cycle of lush greens and submissive old trees as a parallel narrative to Dan and Shuili's story. October, the month, falls in autumn which is when the trees shed their leaves and flowers only so that the earth can be replenished. "If winter comes, spring is not far away" is written all over the film, as is evident by the leitmotif of the night-flowering jasmine, which has a short life but is a symbol of fertility and immortality.
The long road from fall to monsoon though is hammered time and again through Juhi's deliberately exhausting screenplay, Shantanu Moitra's painstaking one-note background score and Shoojit's intentional zidd to wear the viewers down, and then give them that tiny night-flowering jasmine to live with as long as they can.
Unfortunately, this writer's patience waned out much faster than Dan. There were hints that let out hope for the Shoojit-Juhi magic to cast its spell, only to be taken away by a painful retreat to square one. This cyclic reaction went on throughout the the film and it drained me out. Ultimately, in this film, have Shoojit and Juhi offered us one last leaf (or the last petal in this case) to hold on to? The eternal optimist in me says yes.
Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 16:05 PM