Synopsis – October is not a Love Story, but rather a story about love.
My Take – While it is well known that Bollywood filmmakers have been obsessed with romance since the time of dawn, lately the genre has been running on shaky grounds, mainly as filmmakers refuse to let go of their mushy portrayal of emotions. Hence as a cinephile it surprised me quite a bit when I found that Shoojit Sircar, a filmmaker known for directing unconventional films like Vicky Doner, Madras Cafe and Piku, all while supporting and writing hard hitting dramas like Pink, would be divulging in the almost washed out genre that too with Varun Dhawan, a box office magnet who has made a career out of starring in masala oriented films (albeit mostly entertaining) as the main lead, I was quite skeptical, but thinking about it, a Shoojit Sircar film seldom disappoints.
Being his most ambitious collaboration yet with screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi, this one instead is a mellow drama shorn of conventionally filmic twists and turns. From no melodious songs to no ‘all good in the end’ ending the film stands apart from the league of Bollywood romantic films. Yes, the film might not be for everyone, especially those bred on regular Bollywood staple of melodrama and high voltage action, as director Sircar brings a meditative quality to the story, and it is this quality that makes the film stand out. But if you are looking for something truly different that tugs at your heartstrings then this could be it.
The story follows Danish Walia aka Dan (Varun Dhawan), an intern working at a five-star hotel in Delhi, whose arrogance and childish antics usually gets him into trouble with his superiors and guests. Dreaming of owning his own restaurant with two of his colleagues, Dan often keeps everyone at bay, even if they selflessly cover for him, one of whom happens to be the soft spoken ideal employee Shiuli (Banita Sandhu). While Dan and Shiuli are acquaintances at best, everything changes, the moment she has a freak accident.
Accidentally falling from the rooftop of the hotel during the New Year’s party, Shiuli is immediately hospitalized and slips into coma. While her colleagues pay her a visit for a few days, to inquire about her condition, Dan finds himself in a growing obsession especially when he finds out that her last dialogue of her enquiry before the fall happened to be about him, making him wonder, if there was something between the two he had missed. While frequently visiting the hospital, Dan slowly becoming the pillar of Shiuli’s family especially her mother, Professor Vidya Nair (Gitanjali Rao), his whole life including his job and relationships begin to crumble around his stubbornness and persistence to find out why.
Divided between the hospital to which the broken body and comatose mind of Shiuli is taken to, and the hotel in which her colleagues are distraught and in grief, Dan, in particular. While the film may be devoid of joy or any form of celebration, the success of its writing and acting lies in the fact that each of these people is so utterly real, the story so utterly relatable, and so full of human values. The emotions which are tapped in the film are that of sadness, grief, loss etc. The best part about the film is that director Sircar never loses track and inserts any amount of exaggeration in the film. One of the recent films which came to my mind while watching this one is was the indie hit The Big Sick starring Kumail Nanjiani. While the latter was a true story and ended on a happy note, this one does it differently. It makes you think about so many different issues ranging from love, life, empathy, fear of losing our loved ones and finally death.
Like his earlier films, this one too is a sharply observant film about small joys, small conversations and empathy. As much as it is about its overriding theme, it is also about that hospital employee who chats intimately with a patient’s friend late one night because he hangs around so much that it feels like they know each other well; the mother who can confide in this boy she only just met, more than those who have known her all her life; the uncle who does not realize that his well-intended pragmatism about Shiuli could hurt those closest to her. Half way through the film you will realize that is not a story about Shiuli, but story of those who orbit around her as she lies motionless. Scenes featuring Shiuli’s mother, her sister and the doctors are among the most moving in the film, along with being the coming-of-age story of a temperamental boy’s journey to manhood as he learns the meaning of responsibility.
Sure, there isn’t much happening in the film but it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that every small scene is evocatively portrayed, it makes us invest in the story wholeheartedly. The odd conversation with a nurse, or Dan’s mother visiting the hospital trying to grapple with what it is that has affected her son so deeply, or the scene when Dan confronts Shuili’s uncle when he says that she might not recover and what if she wakes up and doesn’t remember who they are. Dan responds: So what, if she doesn’t remember who you are, at least all of you remember who she is. It’s intrinsically beautiful that the love here isn’t marred by sexual attraction of any of kind, it’s just care in its purest most ironical form.
While the film leaves the question of Dan’s love for Shiuli, with whom he has only shared a professional bond, open to interpretation, the last words Shiuli utters are Dan’s and when he puts her to bed the last time they meet, there is moment between them that suggest there could have been so much more. Director Sircar also captures the hospital life wonderfully – the endless waiting, the friendships you form with others, the whirring and beeping of machines that never seem to end. Background music is used sparingly in these scenes, and director Sircar juxtaposes hospital life with life in the hotel where Dan works. These are two contrasting places – one bustling with life and the other where the soft humming of machines and faint breathing keeps hope alive, and the film straddles these two spaces beautifully, telling us a fragile tale of love and loss.
Yes, the pace may seem to be slow, even though I do agree some scenes could have been done away at the editing table, but then, that is how life also moves when stuck in tragedy. The film takes an emotional leap towards the end. Another good part of the film is that the screenplay very clearly talks about certain human values and how important it is to be selfless when somebody is going through tough phase in his or her life; deeds devoid of any concrete results in sight or expectations are also important. This film is also a rare example of a film in which every single actor is remarkable, every single character memorably written and acted.
The film biggest risk had to be the casting of Varun Dhawan, who post his superb turn in the 2015 film, Badlapur, has stuck to doing roles only in which he seems comfortable with. However here, guided by Shoojit Sarkar’s vision, Dhawan gives us an edgy but consistent performance in the lead role. It is a delight seeing him give a heart-achingly sincere performance as Dan, his boyish innocence further highlighting his authentic sense of loss and pain. Debutant Banita Sandhu is simply brilliant in her scenes of absolutely blankness as a comatose woman, interspersed with microscopic facial and eye movements as she appears to show signs of recovery. Also not to forget Geetanjali Rao is stupendous in her depiction of a single mother and her bond with Dan brings some of the most inimitable moments in the film. On the whole, ‘October’ is an authentic heartfelt saga of love and loss which despite its slow pace deserves a watch for its empathetic writing and Varun Dhawan‘s superb performance.
Directed – Shoojit Sircar
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 115 minutes