Director: Shoojit Sircar
October, directed by Shoojit Sircar, is a thoughtful, meditative film about love, grief, mortality, and the making of a man.
When a freak accident puts a young girl in hospital, the incident has a life-altering impact on her co-worker. Varun Dhawan plays Danish aka Dan, an immature twenty-something-year-old who works as a trainee at a Delhi five-star hotel along with several others, including Shiuli (newcomer Banita Sandhu) whom he knows as any other colleague. But her fatal condition following a mishap affects him much more than it does the others, and he singularly commits himself to her recovery.
It’s a thin idea, but Juhi Chaturvedi’s script brings nuance and beautiful complexity to this premise. The fact that Dan and Shiuli – who are not at all alike, and are barely even friends – become unexpectedly connected by something that resembles love is communicated without fuss or fanfare.
This is a film that asks to be felt. Very little actually ‘happens’ during the course of its running time. A lot of it is about waiting – on the part of both the characters on screen, and us, the viewers. Yet the languid passage of time – conveyed through the change of seasons – is crucial to the experience of the film. The pace is deliberately slow, as if Shoojit wants us to feel every excruciating minute of watching a loved one’s life hanging by a thread.
There is great sadness at the heart of October. I watched much of the film choked with emotion, and when it was over I wanted to be alone. It’s likely that some may feel the film ends too abruptly, or that characters and narrative threads are left without closure. But that is by design. Shoojit and Juhi have crafted a film that makes no grand announcements. There is no spoon-feeding, there are no manipulative music cues. Like life itself, the events in the film creep up on us without warning.
Our window into the world of the film is through its characters. Varun Dhawan strips away the affectations of the Hindi film ‘hero’ to play Dan, whom we first meet as a permanently irritable fellow in a job where he has no business being anything but polite. Dan’s awakening, his coming of age, is conveyed through a nicely realized performance from Varun, whose sincerity is unquestionable. Lighter moments, like his exchanges with a nurse, bring much-needed respite in a grim, mostly quiet film.
Banita Sandhu lets her big, beautiful eyes do most of the work for her, and it is again by design that we know so little of Shiuli – and what’s in her heart – even when the movie ends. Offering a deeply affecting performance as Shiuli’s mother, Gitanjali Rao is a portrait of grief, her face a canvas that reveals the progress and deterioration of her daughter’s condition.
The other ‘invisible’ character in October, and just as effective, is the strong sense of atmospherics. The evocative cinematography, a keen attention to detail, the unflashy score, and the unhurried pacing all work together to transport us to the world of these people, and to deliver a kind of immersive sensory experience that is unique to this film.
Unlike the case with Shoojit and Juhi’s previous collaborations Vicky Donor and Piku, the mood in October is decidedly somber; there’s very little to laugh about. Be warned the overwhelming sadness will take a piece out of you. If you allow it though it has the power to change the way you look at love and life.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.