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‘October’ review: That sad autumnal feeling

Love lost: October is about the precariousness and fragility that defines life

Love lost: October is about the precariousness and fragility that defines life   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi tell a moving tale about coming of age, love, life and mortality

What is October about? A cheeky, disgruntled, devil may care young man’s passage to awakening, maturity, sensitivity. It’s also about fickle love that you may keep chasing without success and then may just hit upon it by the way, at the oddest of time, in an unforeseen situation, for someone you’d have otherwise not cared about. It’s about how a brush with mortality could add meaning and depth to life and how the practicalities and urgencies of life can be more cruel than the finality of death. Most of all October is about the precariousness and fragility that defines life.

Danish “Dan” Walia (Varun Dhawan) and Shiuli (Banita Sandhu), two hotel management trainees, find a rare emotional connect as a sudden turn of events throw their lives out of gear. There is a rare, matter-of-fact poignancy and profound acceptance of the vicissitudes of life that makes you deeply invested in October, yet the film simultaneously makes you stand away from its emotional tug to admire its craft and the detailing. The loveliness with which the film works with the daily rhythms of life for instance—of a hotel and a hospital, one feeding and indulging lives, other supporting and saving them even as there is a life lying still in an intensive care unit, where time has come to a halt at the centre of manic action. The camera rolls effortlessly from one space, one set of frantic activity to the other.

The film’s trailer left me with some misgivings but then not every film about a comatose character is necessarily “inspired” from Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her. October stands rooted on its own ground. At one level it is a keenly observed piece of Delhi life—the accents squarely belong to the NCR. There is the dance of seasons that can only happen the way it does in Delhi, against the unmoving backdrop of the Metro criss-crossing Dwarka—the opening shot of moist foggy winters, the spring flowers, the rains. And the harsingar/parijat/jasmine/shiuli—the flower of October, the flower of sadness and sorrow that spreads its fragrance in the short time it blooms and then falls on the ground in just a matter of dawn to dusk.

Writer Juhi Chaturvedi brings all the references together beautifully and Shoojit Sircar renders the feelings achingly tactile with the evocative imagery and the plaintive soundscape.

Chaturvedi’s strength lies in bringing the quotidian to life. October is structured like a string of random moments—some needless but funny like the Ghaziabad family forgetting one of its kids back in the hotel room. Or the odd talk with the hospital staff and the watchman. But then this is what life is about, not every moment matters or adds up to anything. And there are moments of mirth in even the most trying times. The writing relies on the power of the unsaid. Like the unforgettable scene in which Dan’s mother (Rachica Oswal) talks of the fear of losing touch with her kids when they grow up, only to be told by Shiuli’s mother that Dan has been a big support to her. In just one unfinished conversation, Chaturvedi hints at how little parents sometimes know their own children.

Almost every character leaves an impression. It’s because even the most miniscule parts have been treated with respect, with good actors stepping in to perform them. I can’t shake off Dan’s mother and the hospital nurse (Nimmi Raphael) from my mind. Sandhu makes the most unusual and brave debut. Gitanjali Rao is luminous and affecting as her mother. This perhaps is the most complicated role that has come Dhawan’s way—of being a profound fool—and he handles it ably specially the way he stands tall as the outside support for Shiuli’s family, all to search for the answer to a question that no one thinks is any big deal.

There are no villains in the story. Everybody means well—the uncle who wants the plug pulled on the life support system because of the mounting bills and waning hope or Asthana, the hotel supervisor or the friends who carry on with life even when the life of a close friend is ebbing away. Not once is Chaturvedi judgmental. After all, this is what is life about. Figuring out when it’s essential to cling on and when it’s ok to let go. Death is the finale for only the one who dies. October underlines this with melancholy that resonates without ever turning maudlin.

October

Director: Shoojit Sircar

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu, Gitanjali Rao, Rachica Oswal and Nimmi Raphael

Storyline: Danish “Dan” Walia and Shiuli, two hotel management trainees, find a rare emotional connect as sudden turn of events throw their lives out of gear

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 1:04:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/october-review-that-sad-autumnal-feeling/article23516861.ece

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