What is life, if not an atomized path that’s strictly one-way, ours colliding with countless other paths, intersecting them, forming a union with some, never crossing others, each interaction a cross-road, leading us in directions that our choices guide us to, knowingly or unknowingly, by actions that may be ours or someone else’s who may or may not be directly in our path, but whose intersection and collision elsewhere leads a consequence down our path.
According to director Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi, breathless as this description of a lifetime may sound, it’s possible to watch a snapshot of lives as they go about this zig-zag of choices and drink in the beauty and pain that is life. And that when you zoom in, this path of intersections and collisions, of meetings and departures is poetry in itself. October is possibly one of the most mindful and aware movies made in Hindi cinema. It’s as graceful and dignified as life was meant to be for us on this planet, and it’s as inevitable and encompassing as death is.
The opening montage of the Radisson Hotel at Dwarka, Delhi, thrums with the hospitality staff laying out the comfort and luxe that guests come to expect (and rightfully so, if they aren’t being uncouth, entitled, and abrasive) and take for granted. Each cut in this scene, set to an upbeat, yet relaxing piano riff (composers Shantanu Moitra and Anupam Roy doing a superb job all through, never hitting unnecessary or loud notes, just making the score pass by with their piano, cello, ukulele, and choral usage ) is swift yet smooth, exact but not crude, smart but also smooth. And in this do you meet the bunch of understudies who’ve come to intern at the hotel, as part of their course completion. The batch consists of Danish Walia (Varun Dhawan) who goes by the truncated Dan, Shiuli (Banita Sandhu), Ishani (Isha Chaturvedi), and Manjeet (Sahil Vadoliya). There are others, but director Sircar is content with watching this bunch and their paths of life’s transactions. Overlooking them is their manager and supervisor, Asthana (Prateek Kapoor, very, very good), who’s frankly getting steamed up with the sullen and hyper acts that Dan is prone to.
Dan’s bête noire is Shiuli – and we’ve all had our moments of viscerally disliking that overachieving student in class – because she has her life meticulously arranged, her knowledge and expertise in STEM riling him no end. She’s emotionally anchored, empathetic, and effortlessly operates in a mind space that enables her take decisions that are nothing but right. Dan, meanwhile, plots his career’s snakes and ladders – mostly snakes – that gets Asthana’s goat – while the boy’s frustration piles up, leading to one mistake after the other. There’s a scene where Dan’s killing flies and other winged nuisance with a swatter, while Shiuli looks at him as she carries on her work. That moment defines both of them – she still empathetic, wondering what’s up with him, he irritated and even more sullen.
And then, just like that, in a flash, life’s path careers into an unexpected trajectory, that changes all their lives, but more Shiuli and Dan’s. And as the scenes develop, so does Dan’s personality change, all the angst and anger channeled into finding the answer to one question that haunts him. And as he begins to get involved with Shiuli, he finds answers that he didn’t have questions for, and discovers his inner strength that’s now aligned to his turmoil.
October is a transfixing experience, and that’s because the direction, writing and editing (Chandrashekhar Prajapati lubricating the flow with such fine mastery) interweave and knit into a fabric that covers life and its accompaniments, but also, as with all things beautiful, soothes your senses into thoughtful lustrousness, showing you the way, but leaving you to find the path, never attempting to throw you a suggestion, but lighting numerous possibilities within you.
October shows the travails and trials of lives that are suddenly thrown off the rails. No, strike that, it doesn’t show, for that’s too shallow a phrase – it takes you into the everyday routine of dullness that anesthetizes life’s unforgiving pain.
And this is where you meet Shiuli’s family – mother Vidya Iyer (Gitanjali Rao, absolutely, stunningly wonderful, her brace of outer strength fighting a constant battle with her crumbling inner worry, that she telecasts on her face) and siblings Kaveri and Kunal (Iteeva Pandey and Karamveer Kanwar, both superb in whatever little screen-time they get).
The movie nudges you to think, not judge, the possibilities of passive euthanasia, of the decisions that are founded on love and strength, even when the two seem to tug in opposite directions. It’s a warm depiction of how we clutch at straws, at anything or anyone who’s available to help, forgetting sometimes that they have their own paths and journeys to traverse.
It’s also a delightfully warm look at life and love, and the hope that steams all of us on. It’s never depressing, it’s how it is – a slice of life that’s buzzing with possibilities and energy that forms all that’s around us.
The sound design and recording by Bishwadeep Chatterjee, Dipankar Chaki, and Nihar Ranjan Samal is a winner. Quiet, hushed, and meaningful, especially when they cut from the ragged, forced breathing of a ventilator to the chirping of birds; or from hospital sounds to that outside on the street. Every bit of foley mixing by Sarath Mohan is exquisitely done and a cinematic achievement of love. The cast is as underplayed and nuanced as they come – Isha Chaturvedi and Sahil Vadoliya are a revelation in second-line acting support. As are Ashish Ghosh as the neurosurgeon Dr. Ghosh – he’s so believably dignified, I won’t be surprised if he gets consulting calls after this movie – and Nimmi Raphael as Sister Grace, she in an act and character-play that’s nothing short of wondrous, reminding you of all those uncomplaining and cheerful nurses who’ve been around for you and your family in ways no one else could.
Banita Sandhu as Shiuli is magnificent and breath-takingly good. Her eyes change life and expressions as her role traverses, she adds that tinge of hope and hopelessness together, and you root for her character as you would for your own loved ones.
And in what is undeniably his career-best, Varun Dhawan gets it all together so magically, you don’t realize you’re watching an actor who can usually goofball his way to box-office success. Here, he’s a study of earnestness and emotions that flit across his face, as it would on a 21-year old’s. He summons the struggling, half-caked emotional maturity of his character with such maturity, you’re stunned. His body language, his impeccable housekeeping moves, his earnestness in every scene he’s in, leaves you with a fuzziness that good cinema usually does.
Dhawan radiates hope, vanity, frustrations, and strength with equal ease and he does it with an act that’s not one – even as he struggles with his nervous energy by running his hand through his hair – in a long, aerial, still, night shot of the Venkateshwara Hospital, he’s barely perceptible as he walks a lonesome path, but still goes through his gesture. Also watch him when he tells everyone sitting in the hospital lobby to raise their feet as the housekeeper comes swabbing by; or, when he sticks his photo across the hospital bed to be in the line-of-sight; and when he’s shooting the breeze with Sister Grace; and also when he’s putting down Shiuli in her bed at home for the first time, their cheeks almost touch, and his face flushes almost imperceptibly. This is an unforgettable effort, and one that lays out so much hope for Hindi cinema.
As does the movie. For, as we proceed in this journey of life, everything’s unpredictable, especially the head-on collisions with the tough situations. In that, October strews a flutter of metaphorical night Jasmines in our paths that we ought to pick up and hold on to the fragrance of their memories – the good ones, the ones that will act as a guiding incense to a better tomorrow or to look back at all that we were lucky to have. What else will we be left with, those of us who’ll be around to experience life’s autumnal October?
October is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition) There’s lessons for all ages, but patience is a virtue that’ll need exercising from the wham-bam audience.
Director Shoojit Sircar Running Time 1h 55 min
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi
Stars Varun Dhawan, Gitanjali Rao, Banita Sandhu
Genres Drama, Romance
Watch the trailer of October here: