Film review: Director Arjunn Dutta’s Abyakto impresses with a tight plot and sensitive treatment
In 1969 a short plump G R Viswanath burst forth on the Indian cricket scene with a century – a wristy exposition that later became his hallmark – on debut against Australia. Half a century later, Arjunn Dutta, who resembles an overgrown Viswanath without the moustache, has made another impressive debut as an artiste.
His first feature film Abyakto (Unsaid) has the delicate artistry not expected of a debutant. Dwelling on the relationship between a mother and a son, the film builds on an uncomplicated plot of an overprotective young mother, Sathi, desperately trying to insulate her young son from any possible ‘evil’ influence around him and after her husband dies, struggles with the loneliness that results after her son drifts away from her substantially due to her fiercely overbearing character to safeguard his instincts.
However, the film never spells out the reason for her zealous protection of her son, especially from the otherwise amiable, suave, educated and caring friend of her husband.
Sathi’s overbearing acts result in a stifling atmosphere in the small family that otherwise seems tailormade for a happy life. Sathi’s husband silently writhes in agony at his wife’s sudden explosions of rudeness but mysteriously appears to suffer it silently. Deeply resenting her husband’s behaviour, Sathi focusses all her attention to her son unconsciously turning her ‘well-meaning’ intentions into oppression.
Arpita Chatterjee occupies centre stage, essaying the mother’s role to near perfection and looking unblemished in both roles – one in her thirties and later in her sixties – though a few strands of grey hair would have better borne out her age and haunting melancholia.
Anubhav Kanjilal plays the son (screen name Indra), who is restrained in expressing his pent-up resentment against his mother only to learn towards the end what drove her to behave the way she did during his childhood.
“You have destroyed my childhood,” he says poignantly many years later with the mother looking on in helpless reticence.
Understatement is a key quality of Dutta and he makes full use of it throughout the 87 minutes of the duration of the film. He keeps dialogue to a minimum and expresses through silence, faces and the camera.
The roles of Sathi’s husband, his friend Rudra (played by Adil Hussain) and Kheya Chattopadhyay, who plays the live-in partner of Indra, are of minor significance but are played out with care.
Though the film deals with the angst and misunderstanding between a mother and her son that develops and lingers for about a quarter of a century, there are no ‘villains’ in the plot. Despite the context being one of a same-sex relationship, the director steers clear of loud, or preachy, moments and makes no evangelical attempt. He also doesn’t use it as a ploy to attract the audience.
The film is substantially shot indoors. The stifling gloom in the relation between the mother and the son is accentuated by a few shots where the camera ventures outdoors.
The treatment is extremely focused. The buildup of the plot is immersed in an old building of Kolkata where the architecture and even the furniture accentuate the loneliness of a woman, who combined the seemingly conflicting qualities of an admirable singer and a brusque and rude housewife.
There is a small qualifier though. Abyakto is for a matured audience. Though the broad category of a mother-son relation is suggestive of universal appeal, it requires an educated and exposed mind to appreciate the treatment of the film. It is a film that is rooted in Bengali emotions and modern times when the society is grappling with the gradual acceptance of same-sex relationships.
The music director of the film, Soumya Rit is a debutant too, and he uses the sarod quite remarkably to accentuate the understated emotions that the director tried to portray on screen.
Rituparno Ghosh and Kaushik Ganguly had earlier built plots on same-sex relationships for the Bengali audience. Debutant Dutta faced the challenge of making a mark and has handled it with aplomb.