Starring- Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu
Director- Shoojit Sircar
Writer- Juhi Chaturvedi
Rating - 3.5
October is one of the most beautiful tragedies to come out from Hindi Cinema. It challenges all rules of a conventional tragedy and presents life as is. October then ceases to become a movie but an experience. You feel like a fly on that hotel/hospital wall as the tragedy of a young girl spools out in front of you.
Let me elaborate on how unconventional a tragedy October is. Evoking emotions in viewers is a tricky job. Most pieces of art, be it books or movies, first presents happy characters in happy spaces and situations, shooting some happy breeze. Once the reader or the viewer is involved in their happy world, falling in love with these charismatic characters, is when makers decide to bring in a tragic moment, a technique used for maximum impact. This is the lowest hanging fruit, a manipulative tool we have seen in so many movies - an accident, a mishap, a rape followed by gory details that leave you mostly disgusted than emotionally moved. (Only a few films keep it subtle like Konkana’s character being raped in 15 Park Avenue or Rajat Kapoor’s death in Kapoor and Sons.)
Hindi films also drill a sense of loss using jarring background score that makes you cry mainly because of a headache than feeling any feelings for the characters. October is such a refreshing and an effective change to that.
The characters are regular people like you and me. They are not too happy, or too animated or too sad. In fact Dan is mostly frustrated and grumpy (something that’s not explained in the movie.). He deals with a colleague’s tragedy who is not his best friend or girlfriend or even a close friend for that matter, yet he chooses to selflessly look after her at the cost of his personal life and career. And it is then that the film becomes so universally human. There is a quotable quote in Dan’s room that reads - 'Are you there as a solution or are you there as a part of the problem?' That pretty much sums up his role in the movie.
Even the moment of tragedy is shot matter of factly. There is no impending danger looming large, no run up. It’s so sudden that it hits you the hardest. A young hotel intern Shiuli falls from the third floor of her hotel on a new year’s party and the party music continues in the background as it does in real life. So bloody real! No sitars or violins start playing in the background as the scene shifts to the hospital’s ICU. Instead you hear patients’ heavy, assisted ventilated breathing mixed with machines and monitors constantly beeping, medical jargon thrown across the room as the girl is examined by doctors. This will make you uncomfortable and cry incessantly if you have ever experienced the horror of hospital corridors and waiting rooms.
The film, like Waiting, humanises the hospital scenes beautifully. The struggles of a nurse, her lack of a personal life or giving medical advice to fellow patients (because you have spent enough time in the hospital) is shown effectively.
Some might complain it’s a slow film. Of course it is slow paced. Recovery of a young girl who has fallen from 30 feet won’t happen in a collage of scenes against a happy song where the patient is given flowers by her boyfriend and fed noodles in the hospital room as she hangs her fractured leg in air in colorful plaster cast. This is a Shoojit Sircar-Juhi Chaturvedi (Vicky Donor, Piku) film that presents life as is, without filtering it in anyway.
The film does get a bit repetitive though and disconnected. A scene where Dan’s colleague says she wants to have a word with him is suddenly juxtaposed with Dan sleeping in the laundry in the next scene. That seemed too jerky. Also Dan’s arguments, with the hospital’s watchman and supervisor and a couple of other such sequences lengthen the film, especially when his character of a concerned colleague is established well.
However a few shots are done so beautifully that you feel a knot in your stomach. For instance. the shot when Dan curls up on bed helplessly and the camera captures only his back is gorgeous. It shows how a lot can be conveyed with just body language. Reminded me of a scene in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na when Imran Khan hugs Ratna Pathak Shah in a vulnerable moment.
Varun Dhawan is such an earnest performer it breaks my heart. He does sometimes underline an emotion by doing the obvious but he is consistently melancholic throughout the film packing one of his best performances. Banita Sandhu conveys so much with her button eyes. The girl has no dialogues, expressions or movements to use, yet she beautifully portrays Shiuli’s helplessness. I can only imagine how daunting and exhausting it must have been for Banita.
In the supporting cast, Gitanjali Rao as Shuili’s mother is controlled. She shows a range of being doubtful and hopeful.
October is not a usual film. We might even question what bonded the two lead characters. Some of the scenes are extremely sluggish. Yet the film moved me to tears multiple times. I am happy filmmakers are taking a chance, not sticking to a format and experimenting bravely.