A giant screen. 7.1 surround sound. A 3 hour escape from the prosaic concerns of life. For countless Indians that is what defines the weekly pilgrimage to their nearest movie theatre. But does that mean that this experience cannot be more than just a few hours of escapist fun? Is the only goal of cinema to distract you with songs, action, drama and bright colors? Shouldn’t cinema be treated like the art form it is – a multisensory platform to engage with the audience in order to provoke a genuine response, be it an emotional, intellectual or physical one.
These are a few of the questions that were rattling in my mind after watching Shoojit Sircar’s October and hearing people complaint that it had no story, it was pointless and offered zero entertainment. Sometimes the goal of a film is not to tell you a riveting story with many twists or turns, or to make you groove along to catchy songs or even to give you characters that have proper story arcs in the conventional sense with a beginning and clear end. The goal of a film like October is to build an atmosphere, take you on an emotional journey and elicit a feeling that erupts from your subconscious. And in my opinion that is way more valuable than being offered hollow entertainment that you would forget in a couple of hours.
October is raw, visceral and at times achingly beautiful. In telling a story that mostly deals with impending death, it makes you realize the value of life and also of love. The film reiterates the point that what truly makes our meagre lives significant is the bonds that we forge with the people that we meet along the way. These bonds may be formed due to friendship, attraction, respect, admiration or as beautifully expressed in the film, empathy. Here, Dan, a 20 something hotel management trainee with no real connection with anybody develops a deep and heartfelt bond with a colleague, Shiulu after she falls down from the third floor and enters into a coma. Pragmatically, this bond between the two makes no sense but as the film wants you to experience, human connection is a mysterious and powerful thing that cannot be rationally explained.
In the process of taking care of Shiulu, of countless hospital visits, of weighing the practicality of his own life against a life struggling to survive, Dan finds a purpose in life. He finds a soul that he can connect with across the barrier of consciousness. That is why October is not just a love story between Dan and Shiulu. It is a story about love, about the journey we take inside our own minds to figure out ourselves, about discovering what makes us human, about taking a moment to breathe and appreciate life and accept the inevitability of death.
October signifies autumn. It implies the end of a vibrant and full of life summer and the coming of a cold and lifeless winter. Melancholia runs deep through the veins of this film and the title rings true to signify the impending end of one life and the realization of another.
October manages to yank us from our busy, relentless lives and deliver a truly immersive experience that will make you mediate on love, grief, death and the meaning of life. Is that worth spending your valuable time on? I truly think so.
What will you remember 5 years down the line – 2 hours of ‘entertainment’ or 2 hours that have the power to make you reflect on how you view life itself?