Priyamwad’s ‘Khargosh’ seemed too literary on the first reading. It is only while viewing the film I realized that the story had given Paresh Kamdar immense freedom to unleash his own imagination. Paresh reduces the story to its essence, substituting surrealism for an aesthetic minimalism.
The small town of Priyamwad’s ‘Khargosh’ is transformed into lines, shadows, terraces, secret stairways, doors, windows, slats of light. A bangle seller, a horse cart, an ice golawala represent the market. A river, the twist and turn of empty streets, a ghat, the shadow of a fort become the town, a room, a stairway, a terrace, a courtyard, a window become a house, a row of steps, a school bell, and corridors become a school. There are also doors that lead into the forest, which is after all, only a dream.
The sparseness of the mise-en-scene (Art Director – Alok Haldar) is mirrored in a minimalism in sound, music, dialogue, imagery, performances and even the narration itself. It is as if we are watching with a heightened awareness that comes with childhood and also with the first flush of love.
Bantu (Arhan Wilson), a 10-year old boy is witness to the growing courtship between Avnishbhai (Sumit Sharma), his neighbor and older friend and a girl whom we know only as Mrityu (Gauri) or Death. Bantu waits with Avnish at the market place to catch a glimpse of Gauri, watches her dance on a neighboring terrace, carries Avnish’s love letters to her. He arranges their first meeting.
The relationship between Avnish and Mrityu jumps straight from a small town courtship into clandestine trysts which culminate in sex. Bantu finds himself excluded at the crucial moments, the door always shuts on his face, and he is left confused, unwanted. Avnish and Mrityu’s affair is not soft-soaped with ideas of love and romance, but is animal-like in its unrestrained sexuality.
Mrityu’s burning desire for Avnish burns Bantu’s childhood itself. Until then, Bantu has known only the touch of his mother (Garima Shrivastav). The physicality between mother and son is strong, from her feeding him, massaging him, stroking his fevered forehead when he is ill, to pulling him into the house, away from what she can sense is creating an upheaval in his life. Bantu’s physical contact with Mrityu is minimal – the touch of her hand as she gives him sweets, an accidental brushing of her waist when they share a tonga ride, the warmth of her breath when she blows a speck away from his eye. But as Bantu grows more aware of Mrityu’s body, he becomes distant from his mother. He also loses his interest in food. His childhood has been delineated in being fed – rotis, jalebis, prasad, ice golas. Now food can no longer satisfy him.
The school’s regimentation and the ever-so-slightly salacious Principal’s (Chitaranjan Giri) attempts to thwart the children’s growing sexuality with “This is not the age for such thoughts” cannot curb life and its mess. Life eludes discipline. There is a dry humor that underlines the school scenes, with the children chanting “All Indians are my brothers and sisters”, or the Principal’s effort to have everyone standing in a very straight line.
As Bantu realizes his own feelings for Mrityu while watching Avnish and Mrityu make love, he is also confronted with the puppet seller’s death. The puppet seller had sold him a puppet when he was a child, and then another, with the promise that one day they would speak, when the God who could breathe life into them awoke from his sleep. When Bantu’s slumbering childhood comes to an end, he also directly awakes into an adult state, aware not only of lust and longing, but also of selfishness, betrayal, loss and death.
The color red weaves its way through the film – red chillies drying on the terrace, red ice golas, a red light, red walls, a red sari wafting across the geometrical lines of the school, red sweets, the red flowers on the puppet seller’s pyre, the red sari that Mrityu wears in Bantu’s final dream.
Paresh Kamdar has edited the film himself. His unconventional pacing of shots creates another layer to the film, a slightly unreal mood, that leaves you wondering whether this is real or a dream.
Vivek Shah‘s cinematography is outstanding for its precise compositions and the use of light and shade that evoke the unsaid within the narration. But the camera work is also remarkable for its restraint, at no stage does it overpower the film itself.
This restraint is evident in the sound design (Manoj Sikka) and the music (Ved Nair) as well. There is almost no background score, the sound design is made up with effects, creating a meditative quietness.
The film suffers a little with stilted dialogues and uneven performances in some scenes. But overall, it is a pure cinematic experience. This film cannot be enjoyed, it can only be savored.
While this film is one that should be watched on screen, the good news is that it is now available at Flipkart.