Parcel movie review: Indrasis Acharya's tale exposes the rot that lies just below a picturesque facade
Despite being a ‘thriller’, Parcel is a slow burn of a film, like its predecessor Pupa
I distinctly remember having watched Indrasis Acharya’s Pupa with a growing sense of discomfort and excitement — both at the same time. Discomfort because with each frame, the film was challenging the conventional syntax of cinema with which I had come to identify contemporary Bengali films. And excitement because I was beginning to realise that here was a filmmaker who would not hesitate to carve out his own niche, his own language and his own signature in making movies.
In the days that immediately followed my watching the film in a tiny theatre in Kolkata all by myself, I had only one question that kept haunting me: will Acharya be able to stick to his unconventional style? Or will he succumb to the glitz and glamour associated with the medium and join the parade? Now that I have watched his next film, Parcel, I can rest assured, for his signature — if nothing else — is still clearly etched in every frame of the film.
Despite being a ‘thriller’, Parcel is a slow burn of a film, like its predecessor; one where the storyteller takes his time to release information to you, almost in drips, bit-by-bit. However, the film manages to hold your attention as well as your curiosity. These apparently contradictory and certainly difficult tasks are achieved thanks to a simple yet beautiful story that is relevant, immersive and one that has a strong connect.
Parcel is the story of a couple; the husband and wife are both doctors. The wife has had to take a break from her practice for mysterious reasons; the husband is frustrated with the way medical professionals are treated in the country. Scratch a little deeper, and you have a second set of crises, one that makes the man and woman unhappy to the core. But hold on, Acharya is not done yet. He introduces further complications into the lives of the physician couple. Who is sending the lady of the house anonymous parcels containing seemingly ordinary gifts?
Ugliness is at the heart of Acharya’s film. The fact that a blissful family (highlighted by a beautiful opening scene) can have such dark pasts — and in several ways, a dark present too — is something that the film repeatedly and effortlessly drives home. When you look at a pretty tree as part of a picturesque landscape, you don’t think of the decay that is rotting the tree from the inside. It just looks pretty to you, because it fits the beautiful scenery. Acharya’s film is essentially about this fact — that the lives of two people can appear to be a matter of envy, but deep down, they may be irredeemably unhappy souls.
In addition to the peek he offers into the interpersonal relationship of man and woman, the director also offers a scathing social commentary on the medical profession and its many fallacies — in the manner it exists and is practiced in a country such as ours. I cannot possibly talk more on this point without revealing crucial details about the film that could amount to spoiling it for you, but do know that at the heart of Parcel are the frustrations of both the healer and the patient. In one scene, in particular, when the wife meets a patient whose father had succumbed to medical profiteering, the ugliness of the whole healthcare system in India is bared. It is a brief scene though, and this is where I have qualms with the film.
In the very way it is told, and unlike its predecessor, Parcel comes across as somewhat uneven. Consider, for instance, the lady receiving the parcel. In a brilliant device used by the director, the parcels stir the guilt of the receiver. This is a guilt that has built up over the years, and has been consciously kept at bay. In a poignant scene involving husband and wife, the lady tries to justify the collective angst against physicians that has accrued over the decades. It’s a remarkable scene executed with zero gimmicks. But the same guilt is poorly handled in the scenes in which the lady begins to accuse a number of people from her past of sending her the parcels with the not-so-ulterior motive of blackmailing her. Some of the reactions to her accusations also look very forced. Normal people — a hallmark of Acharya’s films — do not behave so irrationally, no matter what the circumstances.
The performances are superlative, though. Rituparna Sengupta is a strange mix of someone resigned to her fate in some matters, and at the same time, someone who can go to any extent to prevent any harm that might come to her family. By now, I am so used to seeing her excel in her roles, that I often commit the grave crime of overlooking the immense difficulties in playing a character as complicated as the one she does in this film. I am inclined to see that the lion’s share of Parcel lies on her shoulders, and she is effortlessly brilliant in it. Saswata Chatterjee is funny, frustrated, jaded, shrewd, not to forget the insecure husband with perilous levels of male privilege in unapologetic display. Both are beautifully written multi-layered characters, and they are played by two fine actors of the industry.
Technically, the film is quite strong. The camera is mostly stationary, and when it does move, it literally narrates the scene to us. One of the key highlights of the film is a brilliantly executed scene single-take in which husband and wife are driving through the city and the façade of civility falls off between them. It is easily my favourite scene in the film, thanks mainly to the tension that it builds and the absolute lack of respite (in the form of look-away) that it offers.
I loved Parcel. It has the Indrasis Acharya feel to it, which is a good thing. It is far from perfect though. It does manage to establish that Acharya will make films the way he likes to make them, and that he does not care for conventional wisdoms in cinema. Which is also a good thing.
Parcel plays at the Kolkata International Film Festival, 2019.
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