Director: Shirish Kunder

Full film link: (video removed by YouTube due to copyright claim by Nepalese filmmaker Aneel Neupane)

It’s only lately that contemporary Indian filmmakers are beginning to discover the unending cinematic potential of looking inside themselves. Most of them are creators and writers, prone to spending elongated phases in solitary confinement, concocting up wordy worlds for a living, and then some more. And, as artistic history has often proven, the mind of a writer can make for such cinematically dynamic and fertile landscapes; anything goes, and nothing goes. It can be equally fascinating to navigate — without pretence and restraint — the artist and his/her being, instead of their glorious or “commissioned” visions. Even though ‘Roy’ didn’t work, the entire concept of delving into the tortured mind of an author (Arjun Rampal) and his conflicted relationship with his adventurous creation (Ranbir Kapoor) is noteworthy on its own.

Shirish Kunder, who is unfortunately known more for his sophomore disaster ‘Joker’ than his grossly underrated and innovative broadway-style musical debut ‘Jaan-E-Mann’, must have spent hours and years in a cerebral prison of his own. An editor-turned-director unfairly identified as choreographer-turned-director Farah Khan’s husband, Kunder can’t have had a very pleasant professional decade.
Perhaps it was only inevitable that he would return with a film revolving around the agonising existence of a disturbed writer — an alter ego that he, and many like him (including this writer), may have been tempted to embrace in darker times. There comes a despairing and strangely exciting time for obsessive writers, when the quintessential blurred line between reality and fiction assumes an unpredictable form. Most turn to an addiction of some sort — to a substance or person, and abandon physical health to compensate for mental insecurities: you begin to stop respecting the people around you, convinced that nobody can understand your issues and perpetual struggle to be appreciated. The ‘imaginary-friends’ phenomenon may sound like a horror movie trope, but its real-world realisations are far more compelling. Of course, various other factors contribute to this tipped-over condition: the genre of writing one does, its saleability and success, the personal life at that point of time, its fragile reconditioning into a chapter/phase of one’s script.

In Kunder’s short film, Kriti, Manoj Bajpayee plays Sapan, a writer who seems to be fatally attached to his own characters. This isn’t unusual for most loners and creatively-inclined introverts; they imbibe all their romantic fantasies and desired attributes into one ideal character, and build, live, thrive and co-exist with it like a normal relationship until the ‘project’ is over. Ruby Sparks, a 2012 film, starred Paul Dano as a famous author and idealistic lover who pours in years of soulmate-disillusionment into his new creation, Ruby (Zoe Kazan). This cheeky, metaphorical drama captures the existential loneliness of creators more than other genre-specific stories. They fall in love, until he realises that all her feelings for him are simply ‘exuberant’ and ‘effervescent’, existing in extremes without any in-between, much like the pre-imagined emotions he attaches to his characters. These ideas almost never end well, which is when the writer is supposed to attain painful closure during that proverbial coming-of-age moment.

But in Kunder’s film, Bajpayee is painted as an obviously dark and unhinged chap. Sporting a hoodie and glares in his psychiatrist’s (Radhika Apte; everyone’s current ‘psychologically thrilling’ darling) rather artful office, he comes across as a rather naive and deliberate image of insanity — the shady types 10-year olds imagine when reading about their favourite villains. The disconcerting dutch angles in her office, presumably to evoke a mysteriousness about this part in hindsight, further convolutes Kunder’s very studied vision of something that should be inherently chaotic and shaky. It’s a little odd, and ethically ambiguous I’m sure, that his childhood friend doubles up as his shrink — something that perhaps makes sense later when it’s revealed that she is in fact his most dangerous creation (Dr. “Kalpana”; far from subtle film-school-style name-play).

This film could very well serve as a bulletpoint on the CV, the early makings, ‘Chapter One’, of an “urban” serial killer, one who is so far consumed by his own craft that diagnosable real terms like ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘multiple identity disorder’ would seem like flimsy Bollywood-ish exit routes. If Anurag Kashyap’s Ramanna (Nawaz, in Raman Raghav 2.0) was a gleefully bloodthirsty animal sans reason, Sapan is a haunted man riddled with too much (invisible) reason and urban angst. Kunder’s soundtrack goes from echoey-unraveling to revelation-mode with a simple change of instrument (piano to trumpet-ish strings) by the end, forcing upon us a very Shyamalan-isque ‘voila!’ twist, one that doesn’t shy away from being proud of its own misdirection. You sort of see it coming, and the canvas Kunder uses is sanitised, glossy and mainstream, which somewhat keeps us hooked in a lurid big-smart-concept-film manner.

Apte only recently delivered quite a knockout performance as an Agoraphobia-afflicted lady in Pawan Kirpalani’s ‘Phobia’, which immediately becomes the yardstick for Neha Sharma’s frazzled and annoyingly-beautiful-looking turn as the ‘sick’ girlfriend here. One can imagine how an older and temperamental writer like Sapan snags a pretty aspiring young thing like Kriti, an unsettling backstory that doesn’t need to present itself, given Sapan’s creepy Aks-inspired intonations. Another ‘scripted’ moment occurs when the unprepared Maharashtrian cop (Manu Rishi) — unfortunate enough to stumble upon this crime scene — recoils in horror after discovering Kriti’s body, and screams to Sapan, “Stay back. Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not my wife!” Such tone-deaf lines yank you out of Kunder’s carefully indulgent vision.
Apte’s perfect fringe and cat-eyes make for a grandstand 90s’ style-quotient ending, one that is almost a relief after Bajpayee’s Prakash-Jha-baddie act (a disappointment after his delightful turn in another short, ‘Taandav’); he seems torn between his own memories of Ramgopal Varma’s ‘Kaun’ and his director’s version of contemporarily acting out that character. He isn’t quite the natural fit into the portrait of an eccentric and extravagant whiskey-and-cigars author, despite his impressive filmography in the mentally-unstable category. Sapan’s bungalow is, in itself, quite a compelling presence, filled with mannequins and figurines and abstract portraits of femininity — a kind of mental roadmap to his current stage of dementia. However, its other-worldly loudness in a supposedly real universe again screams out that this is not just a film, but a *designated thriller* that we’re watching. Could be a reclusive Madh Island bungalow, of course, but one can’t get over how lavishly these designs incubate whispery strands of a psycho-mode personality.

Staged as an innocent work of intrigue, Kriti is a short film that trusts its idea enough to sell itself short. This format often affords filmmakers the freedom to experiment and find their voice again, in between their years of moulded sensibilities; only, Kunder’s is less of a stepping stone, and more of an agreeable baby step back into the spotlight. One does hope there’s more ahead.

If anything, this one seems to be therapeutic for its maker, who shows glimpses of a star-crossed vision peppered with years of commercial frustration. And, for now, this is an 18-minute leap forward — one that he needs, and perhaps one that leads him to finally create something we deserve.

(Having said that, this could yet be a false dawn, considering the similarities in plot and production design KRITI shares with Aneel Neupane’s low-budget BOB, whose link is shared below. Having seen both, the charge is fairly undeniable)