Dhuin review: Achal Mishra's portrait of artistic pursuit is a compact gem; intimate and expansive at the same time
Set in Darbhanga, Dhuin revolves around an aspiring actor named Pankaj (Abhinav Jha), who struggles to find the middle ground between desire and despair in order to follow his dreams.
How far is Mumbai from Darbhanga? This is not a question that crosses the mind of Pankaj (Abhinav Jha); he is almost on the way, eager to fulfill his dream of becoming an actor. Dhuin, the sophomore feature film from director-producer Achal Mishra now streaming on Mubi India, translates to fog in the Maithili language. It yearns to find an escape and hope in the pursuit of artistic excellence. It begins at Darbhanga Railway station, where Pankaj participates at a nukkad natak (street play). Yet, as Pankaj will learn during the course of this profoundly moving film, it is not as easy to escape as to endure. (Also read: DaDa review: Enjoyable coming-of-age drama about accidental parenthood)
Even as Mishra injects Dhuin with a feather-weight touch of tenderness and delicacy, firmly aided by the moody, visually stunning work by cinematographer Anand Bansal, there is a disquieting sense of ruthlessness that drives the pace of this film. Pankaj just wants to act. For the time he stays away from his humble abode near the railway tracks, Pankaj earns whatever he can with theatre work and street plays. His internal struggle is caught up in the web of familial responsibilities and economic stability, that unfold with a quiet sense of despair. In the walls of his room are cutouts of actors he admires- Jack Nicholson holding his Oscar being one. He watches YouTube tutorials on how to cry without glycerin because that's what he is looking for: authenticity.
Yet, as much as Pankaj tries to construct a possible route to chase those intoxicating dreams of becoming an actor, he is constantly tied down by his own sobering reality. Until how long will he be able to save up for his journey to Mumbai, for which he has to make a deposit for the rent? He is 25 already. What is he waiting for, really? Someone to tell him that he is good enough? The thought of his ailing father? Mishra has a keen eye on the toxic pattern of cultural elitism that namedrops and gatekeeps not only the ‘outsiders’ but even within the known circuits where it stings the most. When some theatre actors arrive in Darbhanga to shoot a docu-fiction, the first string of introduction is that they are from NSD (National School of Drama), and now live in Mumbai- two seemingly essential qualifiers of being an actor in the first place. (Another Pankaj is mentioned in the same breath too- that of lauded actor Pankaj Tripathi, with great subtlety and effect.)
Where does Pankaj stand in that small circle, with no exposure to boast or contribute to a certain director's filmography? It builds up to an unforgettable scene on the field where they sit for a chat, and Pankaj tries to comprehend who this filmmaker his (smart hat tip to Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami), and why is his filmmaking style so interesting. As Pankaj is slowly, and devastatingly shown his place in that discussion, a flashlight appears on his face voluntarily. The scene cuts to show that the flashlight is from the car driving practice happening in the background. The small car revolves around the same circumference of the field again and again. It doesn't know its full potential yet. The scene, so articulate in its visual grammar, packs an emotional wallop.
Dhuin rests on the brimming sense of discomfort and disconnect that unravels through Abhinav Jha's presence, and the actor (who is also credited for the screenplay) gives a brutally effective performance without taking centerstage. Note his change of body language when he talks to another struggling actor in his locality as compared to the ones when he is interacting with the actors who have come from Mumbai. Pankaj could very well want to be a painter or a scientist- it is not merely about the profession but the commitment and passion towards any goal that requires perseverance, support and a sense of remove, as well as just talent. In a fiercely competitive, uncaring and hesitant world, where is the guiding light?
Special mention to Tajdar Junaid's score, so unusually effective in the later scenes, as Pankaj traces back home, enveloped in the dense fog of melancholia and despair. Mishra's ability to unearth as well as widen so many layers of modern socio-economic existence within 50 minutes of runtime is no small feat. Dhuin is a compact gem of minimalist cinema, at once intimate and expansive. Like the fog, it will linger long after its over.