Monday, March 22, 2010

Liberating the Prisoner

A prisoner. Unshaven, haggard and released from a physical prison. Beat up apartment. Old typewriter. Click, click. Novel. Money. Maya. Liberation.

Siddharth: The Prisoner (2008, India, Pryas Gupta)

After Siddarth is released from prison, he goes about unburdening his soul by feverishly typing away his novel on an old typewriter using scribbled notes from his prison term. When he has finished the book, he heads to an internet cafe to send an email to his publisher. After he pays the internet cafe manager, Mohan, he picks up a wrong briefcase and leaves the briefcase with his novel behind. The incorrect bag, that Mohan was looking after for a gangster, is full of money. Sid is delighted to come across this fortune, especially since the money can assist in his plan. We learn later on in the film that the purpose of his book is to regain some of the fame and money that he had prior to his prison term so that he can have a chance to win the custody of his son in a divorce battle with his wife. Now with money in front of him, Sid thinks he can bypass a step in his process. Naturally, Mohan gets in trouble over losing the money and goes about trying to locate Sid in order to save his own life. It turns out that the money will not be enough for Sid so he needs to locate his novel. As both men try to rectify their mistakes, their desperation and methods parallel each other’s. At one stage in the film, both men photocopy items they need to return (the novel in Mohan's case, money in Sid's case) because they want to cover up losses they have encountered along the way – Mohan accidentally ends up burning some pages of the novel and Sid spends some of the money.

The simple story is filmed so beautifully and poetically by Pryas Gupta that one hardly notices the lack of dialogue spoken by Rajat Kapoor in his role as Sid. The pacing of the scenes is leisurely, the action is not rushed and the camera allows us to observe all relevant details without trying to spoon feed anything. The Buddhist ending of Siddharth.. shares a sentiment with Pan Nalin's wonderful Samsara and is perfectly in keeping with the tone and nature shown in the film. In Siddharth.., we see Sid slowly realize that money, the longing for his son, the need to get his book published are weights that are dragging his soul down and are preventing him from observing the illusionary nature of his life. Gradually, Sid starts to shed all his worldly chains and is completely liberated in the end. The final shot also echoes what Lisandro Alonso established with Farrel's walk towards the snowy landscape in Liverpool.

Gupta's first film marks one of the best debuts by an Indian director in the last few years. It is clear that Gupta has not compromised anything as the filming style represents a clear vision that he had for this treatment, something that is rare to find in a majority of Indian films where directors are forced to bow down to producer interference. When Siddharth.. was released in Indian theaters in 2009 hardly anyone saw the movie and the few critics that did slammed it. Thankfully, the film is now available on DVD in most Indian stores and hopefully through word of mouth this film will finally get the audience that it deserves. This is a movie that needs to be seen and is one of the best Indian movies to have been made in recent years and Pryas Gupta keeps the hope alive that there are cinephiles in India who are capable of making intelligent and thoughtful films.

Rating: 9/10

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