October : Love In The Time Of Malady
Shiuli, or night jasmine, is a flower which certainly evokes many fond memories if you are a Bengali. The flower is available for a brief period of time during autumn and is reminiscent of the most important festival of a Bengali’s year, the autumn festival, Durga Pujo. But as a flower of such grace it is remarkably fragile and delicate. I have fond memories of simpler times when there was a hullabaloo in children to go collect Shiuli flowers in the dawn, when it would be found in it’s most pristine condition. Few hours later, as the sun shines brighter, they would be trampled down by people, minding their daily routine, running in their eternal rat races. Shoojit Sircar’s October revolves around one such Shiuli whose ephemeral presence at the beginning culminates in a tragic mishap, which robs her of the pristine grace she embodies.
October explores the spaces around the 5 star hotel and the hospital, two remarkably distinct environments. The 5 star hotel is the epitome of vibrancy, where every night everyone is at their cheerful selves, drinking the wine of life. Whereas hospital is the place where a person is at his/her vulnerable most, and in this case nothing happens for months, except for a long wait of uncertainty. In the tight economy of scenes, it still manages to gaze into each character and paint them with a few brush strokes.
Juhi Chaturvedi’s script is very restrained, and is ably supported by Sircar’s direction. There is a splendid scene in between, of two mothers, which I doubt would fit into the narrative scheme of a similar movie like this. But October is not about fitting in. Bonita Sandhu has some really expressive eyes which says a lot without talking, and Varun Dhawan sheds off his energy for perhaps his best performance till now. Gitanjali Rao deserves a special mention for silent poise and dignity. Cinematographer Avik Mukherjee has done some exceptional work in this film. There is a particular frame in which we can see Dan, Shiuli and her mother, when Shiuli’s mother asks Dan to go away, which is immaculately framed. Avik’s camera does a fantastic job in gazing at Shiuli and each of the characters who exist in Dan’s world, to the extent that it makes me wish that it should have gazed longer. Frankly that is my only complaint for the film.
October is a meditative take on the concept of empathy and grief. What happens when we refuse to move on? The act of moving on is sometimes so ingrained in our culture of consumerism, that it is really hard to look back on someone who was dealt a bad hand in life. In this era of instant gratification, how does it feel to be stuck caring for someone which cannot give you immediate dividends for the love and care you provide? Or is helping someone an inherently selfish act in itself? Like the way Dan found a meaning or cause in his otherwise clueless life. October’s biggest achievement is that it resonates with the deepest corners of your subconscious without telling much. It will remind you of someone you knew whose life took a sudden U-turn for the worse, and the initial empathy from the relatives gave away to gradual apathy, the sudden onset of guilt in you for not being able to “be there” for someone, and then before you know, life takes over again. Good films tell you stories, better films make you think, and the very best makes you feel.