Biweekly Binge: Notes from a striver

A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Dhuin

author_img Aditya Shrikrishna Published :  10th March 2022 09:06 PM   |   Published :   |  10th March 2022 09:06 PM
Abhinav Jha from Dhuin

Abhinav Jha from Dhuin

Abhinav Jha can conjure a great disinterested disposition. In Achal Mishra’s new film Dhuin, he plays Pankaj, a struggling actor in Darbhanga, Bihar who is honing his technique while acting in street plays that the local municipality organizes for public interest and awareness. He is part of the local theatre troupe that has its alphas and betas and like some of them, he dreams of moving to Mumbai and joining the audition race to make it big.

As Dhuin—written by Prashant Rana, Achal Mishra, Abhinav Jha and Anubhav Priya—excavates the layers in his personal and professional life, we find that the much of the disinterest is now disillusionment. This is most apparent in a scene in which he is sitting on the grounds and chatting with some old pals who have been to the city and have access to a different world. Pankaj buys ciggies for them and refuses when offered the money. One of them talks about a Kiarostami workshop and like many things in this murky world, there is a little bit of truth and whole lot of embellishment. The topic soon moves to films of Kiarostami—which film was the purest, which one had the bigger impact on them. Pankaj looks around restlessly, Anand Bansal’s cinematography zeroes in on Pankaj even when others are talking. The choice of 4:3 aspect ratio is often apparent, the closeups on Pankaj, his face and back of his head telling and doing more with less. In the grounds, Mishra cuts to a driving school car going in circles, it seems to mirror Pankaj’s emotional and fragile state.

Dhuin, a mood piece from Achal Mishra after Gamak Ghar, is a composite flow of events where every image is carefully orchestrated. Pankaj walking along on the footpath next to the playground and unenthusiastically picking up a stray cricket ball. Pankaj trying a short cut and climbing over the gates of a fort only to be chastised by the watchman into taking the longer route. His house, where he lives with his parents, is carefully designed. A mahilamandal certificate hangs in one corner of the wall and in his room either side of the window tells a different story.One is dominated by rotting academic books—'mathematics’ strikingly visible—and the other by stickers of Hollywood stars and filmmakers. The stickers glow when he’s learning the secrets of crying on cue and is hidden by a curtain when there is talk of money at home. We hear a snatch of conversation about vacancies in railway jobs, but the situation is grimmer for the young lot—especially in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Only a month ago there were large scale protests over problems with recruitment for railway jobs (the trains passing near his house interrupt the sound from YouTube lectures on acting) and it was a sign of discontent among the educated youth who find themselves at a time of high unemployment rate in these two states more than any other. Pankaj too belongs to that generation. With dreams in his eyes but no outlet or avenues apart from seemingly experienced seniors and mentors, Mishra takes us through Pankaj’s journey in minute detail, his daily meetings, discussions, his networking attempts and clicking photographs posing like Shah Rukh Khan.

The film’s images are crisp, employing deep focus when necessary but choosing to stay with Pankaj at all other times, the people around him either a blur or just a voice, lost to the cacophony of the town. The handheld camera in this aspect ratio gives a documentarian quality to the film, we are like voyeurs peeking into the most private moments of this hustler—the disappointment on hearing a young filmmaker say that he’s making a docudrama and therefore won’t be requiring actors hits us harder than it does Pankaj. They are words he hears almost day in day out. It’s also dispassionate. His seniors and older actors take advantage of him, send him on errands. When someone junior to Pankaj complains, he displays the same behaviour hinting at such a transition in the future. Mishra notes that you become what you fearfully admire after all.

Achal Mishra’s film is cinema that is transportive while showing a few days in the life of a man trapped in his own moment. He wants to get out, if not for success, at least to struggle in a place that is closer to his vocation instead of locked away in Darbhanga listening to others talk of workshops and film grammar. While others are privileged to sulk and romanticize their living in a bigger city, he is looking for a chance to gain that access—the privilege of being a striver in the right place with the right resources. So, we see objects in motion—cars, planes, trains, motorbikes and carts. But we also see Pankaj walk from light to mist to darkness, with only passing headlights illuminating the screen, lost among a sea of dreamers lost to the grind.

(Dhuin screened online as part of Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival)