There are a few actors in Indian cinema who can almost never go wrong. Among the recent names, the first of such national treasures would be Fahadh Faasil. But Naseeruddin Shah really is one of the last torchbearers of a school of acting in Hindi cinema that will only perish with the end of the artist himself. The way he tears the characters to their skin and inhabits them with a grounded efficiency is remarkable to an unattainable point. Having said so, it felt both strange and reassuring to have this veteran underscoring himself in this freshman short film. He’s but one of the numerous surprises that Soumyak Kanti DeBiswas’s 12-minute film The Daughter (2022) has.
To explain The Daughter in terms of its plot and characters would be oversimplifying it. It would help one better to understand what it actually is about. The film wants to make sense of actual death, a permanent loss, in a death-like situation. Basically, the film is set in a riot-ridden part of our country, an after-effect of the oppressive citizenship laws. It’s an attempt at mingling the deeply personal with the fiercely political. The director sits down with its leading actors to chart an emotional closure of losing one’s parent, doing so in the form of an angry, yet cerebral narrative. But the film is more complex than it sounds. One can actually read it as a fragmented study of the confrontational nature of relationships. Especially when those relationships are tangled and complicated.
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The film finds its own poetry amid chaos. Not just the visual, but also the literal kind. Naseeruddin Shah’s unnamed father talks to his daughter in form of eloquent poetry. Based on the verses written by Ira Dubey’s father Ravi (translated by Aamir Aziz), the poetic dialogue conveys everything that the film leaves to audience’s interpretation. In lesser hands, it could have been gimmicky. In the hands of Soumyak though, its thoughtfulness becomes a painful highlight.
The script tightly and intricately blends its tonally vast yet disparate elements into a coherent and solid whole. The original score by Oliver Weeks is tense, taut and memorable for the most part. But the cinematography of the film is its technical highlight. Shot by Ranabir Das (from A Night of Knowing Nothing, The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs), the film has the look of a dilapidated building. It perfectly suits the air of frustration and discontent which can be representative of India of the moment. It’s one of the most powerfully shot things to come from India in recent times, following Sardar Udham and Milestone.
But the finest part of the film is its tremendous acting. Ira Dubey is a definitive standout. As the daughter in question, her remarkable body language and everywoman essence is at ease with her rather sleekness in verbal and physical form. Naseer is reliably in good form as the dying parent, his exuberance perfectly blended into restraint. Chitrangada Satarupa and Jitendra Shastri are effective even in their very little roles. The tremendous showcase of acting, majorly by Ira, is what elevates the film as a viewing experience. It’s consistently memorable to watch these people do what they do best- leave their imprints on our minds, that is.
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The Daughter might not be perfect. The editing could certainly have been tighter than it is. However, the kind of stone-cold impact it leaves you with is certainly something, given its sixteen-minute running time. Ranabir’s wonderful cinematography in ‘The Shepherdess’ and muscular editing in ‘A Night of Knowing Nothing’ were testaments enough of his raw indie talent. Soumyak collaborates with him and takes it to the next level with an interesting directorial attempt here.