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Autumn Melancholy

Saturday, April 14, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

October
Director:
Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu, Gitanjali Rao and others
Rating: * * *

October may be a test of Varun Dhawan’s stardom, because he has eschewed vanity and toned down his earlier exuberance to mature stillness. Shoojit Sircar has proven credentials as a director, so Dhawan was not exactly taking a leap without a safety net, but turns out to be the glue that keeps this slow-moving and much too lifelike (if there be such a thing) film together.

Juhi Chaturvedi has written a low-key script about a 21-year-old discovering his own wells of compassion and hopefully growing into a better man.
Sircar puts together a topnotch tech team and directs with a deliberate lack of melodrama, so that a family can discuss pulling the plug on a comatose patient without anyone breaking into angry tears. A mother can discover an unknown aspect of her son without loudly venting her sorrow or disappointment.

Dan Walia (Dhawan) is interning at a Delhi five-star hotel, and does the menial jobs assigned to him with reluctance. His dream is to open his own restaurant, but he also needs to complete his training to get the right experience and so that his middle-class parents do not have to pay the stiff penalty if he quits. So he rebels against the daily vacuuming and dusting by wiping his feet on the towels put out to wash. His boss is stern but also patient, which is why Dan gets away with his small infractions.

He has friends he rooms with, but Shiuli (Banita Sandhu — in a brave debut) is just a fellow intern with whom he has curt conversations. One night, Shiuli perches on a terrace ledge and topples over from the fourth floor. Miraculously she survives but goes into a coma from which even the “genius” doctor does not expect her to emerge intact.

Dan discovers that before falling she had asked, “Where’s Dan?” And he becomes obsessed with the question and starts to spend all his time at the hospital, at the risk of alienating his friends and throwing away his career. He becomes a “pillar” of support to Shiuli’s mother (Gitanjali Rao—dignified in her grief) and siblings. The film moves from the artificial cheer of a hotel to the cold efficiency of a hospital, and after a point it does get boring to watch, even though Dhawan manages to enliven even routine interactions with the nurse on duty, the watchman or a stranger at the medical store.

The film is made up of these little everyday moments of courage, kindness, grace, humour and are performed by a perfect cast of actors in even one-scene roles. Dan’s strange obduracy and that sense of melancholy he acquires, drives the film forward. You wish for some kind of payoff for all that suffering — at least a film can offer hope even in the bleakest situation.

The film, slightly reminiscent of Talk To Her (2002) and The Big Sick (2017), moves to his own rhythm and mood; to its credit, it is quite unpredictable-- right from the casting of a singing-dancing Bollywood star (with the exception of Badlapur) as the protagonist, to daring the audience to watch a film that follows no rules of entertainment. Or romance.

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