With the emergence of multiplexes in India, a number of path-breaking subjects are being unfolded week after week. The cinema caters to the discerning viewer who's looking for a change. It's not commercial, it doesn't fall into the arthouse slot either.
Kanika Verma's DANSH falls in this category!
DANSH borrows heavily from acclaimed director Roman Polanski's DEATH AND THE MAIDEN [1994; Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Stuart Wilson], which was adapted on stage by I.P.T.A., called RAAT. Although the subject sounds interesting, the material is targeted at a niche audience.
Kanika has crafted a fairly strong film out of a talk-heavy material, but it has its share of limitationsï¿½
- One, since the film revolves around three characters primarily and is a one-night story, it tends to stagnate after a point.
- Two, most importantly, one doesn't connect with the material. Sure, it's handled well, but it's not inspiring at all. We all have our dark sides, but why dwell on cruelty? Why was Sonali holding on to such a traumatic past?
- Three, the film is too slow-paced, testing the patience of the viewer.
Based on the conflict between the Mizo National Front [M.N.F.] and the Indian armed forces, DANSH unfolds in a single night.
Mathew [Kay Kay] is the M.N.F. spokesman, an architect of the peace treaty signed by M.N.F. and the Indian authorities. Maria [Sonali Kulkarni], his wife, is a victim of the atrocities inflicted by the Indian army in the past.
Old wounds begin to resurface when Dr. John Sanga [Aditya Shrivastava] enters their world. The doctor has seen his share of misery in the assassination of his father, the former D.I.G. of Mizoram, at the hands of M.N.F.
The doctor doesn't blame anyone for his father's brutal death or his exile from Mizoram [he has moved to Mumbai to start life afresh], and leaves Mathew greatly inspired and touched, and in total awe of his ability to not hold on to the past. Mathew invites the doctor to spend the night at his house and after a few drinks, the doctor falls asleep there.
Maria feels that the doctor is the man who had raped her in the army camp. She tortures the doctor, trying to make him confess that he had committed the heinous crime. The doctor claims to be innocent, but Maria trusts her instincts too well. She may have been blindfolded while being raped, but she strongly believes that the doctor is her rapist.
Maria wants Mathew to kill the doctor. Mathew is confused and finds it hard to choose between the doctor and his wife.
Frankly, DANSH is more of an experiment. In this ever-changing scenario when storytellers are chartering novel paths, director Kanika Verma deserves marks for attempting a hitherto unknown story [for Hindi moviegoers]. But the talk-heavy narrative and the grim goings-on are major obstacles.
Kanika handles a few moments with flourish. The sequences involving Sonali's outburst and her scenes with the doctor in general are well executed. But the direction is the type that would appeal to the festival circuit more than the commercial scenario. Cinematography [Chirantan Das] is up to the mark.
Sonali Kulkarni is brave, absorbing herself in a demanding role. It's a tremendous portrayal, unlike anything she has done so far. Kay Kay is a perfect match for Sonali's intensity. And, of course, Aditya Srivastava has that strange and gritty presence that makes his did-he-or-didn't-he performance all the more compelling.
On the whole, DANSH has the courage to walk on a fresh path, but a material like this doesn't find many followers. At the box-office, a film of this genre needs to be backed by a massive publicity blitzkrieg to create awareness amongst the multiplex crowd. But that's not the case here. The not-too-aggressive publicity coupled with the absence of known names in its cast, a difficult title to comprehend and the experimental theme will make its survival difficult at the ticket window.