cast: varun dhawan, banita sandhudirector: shoojit sircarstars: 5 stars (out of five) the leading man of october has a name tag that says ‘substitute’. This is because he is a trainee hotel manager, sheeter, and fly swatter at a five-star property, a young man not yet worthy of a custom piece of plastic. that label of anonymous, however, also works because of how far removed this passive protagonist is from what Hindi cinema would call a hero, the exaggerated alpha man used to doing the impossible. In this film, however, we have a boy who is easily irritated and who, in turn, irritates those around him. he growls, frowns, and shies away from work. pushed through the wall by dan, because that’s the name missing from the tag, his boss threatens to beat him up. here he uses the unmistakably Delhi word “chamaat“, to mean a blow stronger and more ambiguous than a slap, a shot triggered by impossible exasperation rather than anger. no one is really mad at dan, even when he is walking away from them in anger. no one is really anything into dan, to be honest. Everyone expects him to know more, while Dan behaves like a stubborn child. who better to guide us through a film about hope? october shoojit sircar is an exquisite drama that reminds us how immature hope itself can be. when the odds are good, such as the outcome of an economics article or winning a game of cricket, the hope is realistic, but when the outcome is really out of range, then the very idea is impossible and illogical and often sounds just plain stupid . just like dan. there is an accident, and a girl goes into a coma. Shiuli, a bright girl who worked at the hotel with Dan, is now lying in a hospital bed, looking like a broken bird. She had asked about Dan just before the disaster struck. They never dated, never shared smiles, never seemed to have a connection, but Dan is overwhelmed by his tragedy and what was a completely casual mention of his name. “Those were his last words,” she says, before stopping. “I mean, she’s not dead…” the line trails off, but somehow, in her comatose colleague, Dan has found a cause.
juhi chaturvedi’s magnificent script shows us what a difference it can make when a person simply decides to be there. this guy has decided to show up. The way they stubbornly pay Shiuli a visit every day confuses her family and friends, but reason can hardly stop a romantic. there he is, chatting with the nurses, looking for medicine and looking at the girl’s uncle. this guy bluntly says that there is no point in getting the girl back if she wakes up and doesn’t remember who she is. Dan, equally bluntly, disagrees: “So what if she doesn’t remember who you are, at least you all remember who she is.” he gives us pause. Shiuli’s mother is a computer science teacher who can deal with difficult facts, but she is comforted by Dan and her insistence. dan is so naive that it allows him to rediscover gullibility. this child may be unnecessarily intruding on someone else’s catastrophe, yet a purely positive presence is wonderful. Dan’s faith affects us all. as the doctor tries to get shiuli to move her eyes from left to right, we, the audience, stare at her hope-hungry pupils, willing them to waver even when they seem completely still. he is an emotionally torn character, losing his appetite without realizing it. This is a remarkably nonchalant, controlled performance in which Dhawan uses insolence as a defense mechanism, treating a no-crossing sign from the Delhi police as if it were a suggestion. it’s immensely believable, especially with regards to his self-centered motivation, as dan insinuates himself into shiuli’s story and keeps telling himself that he matters. he sticks his own pictures on the inside of shiuli’s bed, and although these are pictures of him posing boyishly with that cheeky smile we know so well, however, due to how fantastic the actor is here, he seems unrecognizable . banita sandhu, an actress whom the film looks unflatteringly for the most part, in the hospital light, surrounded by medical apparatus, her head roughly shaven, but they gaze in undisguised adulation, and even sneak to a beauty salon assistant in the intensive care unit to have her brows lined. shiuli is a tough role, but sandhu is impressively consistent and has a grace that befits her character’s name.
The film has a uniformly strong cast (Prateek Kapoor is particularly wonderful as Dan’s distraught boss), but it’s Gitanjali Rao as Shiuli’s mother who breaks the heart again and again, embodying the film’s tearful lyricism. she is fragile, bright and beautiful, a mother perpetually afraid to show her reaction, fearing what she might do to those around her, children, doctors and students. It’s a magnificent performance, evocative, and it made me scream.
sircar is a masterful filmmaker. I’m still in awe of the beautiful piku, another one of his collaborations with chaturvedi, but this movie can be even better. October is incredibly ambitious, a film that questions our assumptions about empathy and pain while keeping us entertained, even tickled, even though tissues must be close at hand at all times. the fearlessness of theme and character is combined with amazing craftsmanship. it’s an astonishingly well-paced, tight, and very cheap movie (less than two hours long) but one that isn’t afraid of stillness or silence.