Direction: Rajshree Ojha
Actors: Victor Banerjee, Arundhati Nag, Soha Ali Khan
An English film with a smattering of Hindi, Bengali and Malayalam, Chaurahen is based on four short stories by acclaimed Hindi litterateur Nirmal Verma and is set in Mumbai, Kolkata and Kochi. Each story is built around a writer and deals with characters struggling to come to terms with death and loss. I haven’t read the original stories but something was obviously lost in translation. Chaurahen is a stilted, dramatically inert film that even at approximately 90 minutes feels much too long.
Aisha, Rajshree Ojha’s reworking of Jane Austen’s Emma, was released first, but Chaurahen is the director’s debut film. It lay in the cans for almost five years before PVR’s Director’s Rare banner, a great initiative to bring independent cinema to theatres, picked it up.
Chaurahen has good intentions but erratic execution and few insights. Ojha has gathered some wonderful actors here -- from Victor Banerjee, who plays an aging man in an adulterous relationship with a girl young enough to be his daughter, to Arundhati Nag and Nedumudi Venu, who play grieving parents who have lost their son in war. But then, these actors are saddled with dialogue that strains to be poignant and piercingly deep. So in one bed, a couple has the following discussion: “Games, it keeps things balanced.” “What things?” “Games of relationships, love, power.” While in another bed across the country, the post-coital conversation goes like this: “What is the closest you have ever come to dying?” “One dies a little every day.”
There is death in each story but the only one with genuine emotion is the Kochi episode. Ojha handles tricky scenes well, including one in which the protagonist, played by Karthik Kumar, reveals a difficult secret. Nag, Venu and Kumar imbue their grief with a quiet grace. Their anguish is palpable.
But Ojha’s good work here is undone by the Mumbai saga, in which Ankur Khanna plays a writer holding on to his dead parents – and by that I mean literally. He still keeps his father’s dentures in the house, for instance. The writer and his partner, played by Soha Ali Khan, wander around Mumbai saying things like “Happiness does not exist. It is only remembered in times of agony” and “D minor is the saddest of all chords.” Kiera Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter, makes a largely forgettable appearance in the Kolkata chapter as an object of desire. Zeenat Aman also drops in, playing a mysterious woman at a bar. I’m sure there is a sub-text here but it eluded me.
Chaurahen brims with tortured souls, pensive silences, meaningful looks and meals left unfinished. Not surprisingly, it’s a slog of a film.