Mayank Shekhar: The Ribbon that deserves a gong

Published: Dec 19, 2017, 06:12 IST | Mayank Shekhar

One way to arrive at your favourite film is to shine a light at the most under-rated: Rakhee Sandilya's Ribbon it is for 2017!

For a film buff, what could be the opposite of catching the First Day, First Show (FDFS) in a theatre? The Last Day, Last Show (LDLS), obviously. Except, the excitement levels leading up to both are just the same, for entirely opposite reasons.

Kalki Koechlin and Sumeet Vyas play the lead roles in the film
Kalki Koechlin and Sumeet Vyas play the lead roles in the film

In the first case, you're enthused enough by a movie that's totally 'garam' in public mind, for its director/cast/subject/soundtrack/trailer, or its relentless marketing, to catch it early Friday morning before anyone else does. With the LDLS, you're aware the film's probably great, mainly thanks to certain friends/reviewers, whose opinions you trust. But you're aware that it won't last beyond the first week. So you rush, somehow slide in through the door, to make it for a 11.15 Thursday late-night show, knowing that there is no other chance of watching this film in a theatre thereafter.

This is exactly how I caught Rakhee Sandilya's Hindi release, Ribbon, at the end of the first week of November this year. And given the insurmountable expectations, which is inevitable for both the special FDFS and LDLS, I naturally found myself shifting on my seat, thinking, "Kya yaar," since it does take rather long (29 minutes to be precise) for the first-time filmmaker to sink into the movie's natural rhythm, as it does for the audience to get in sync with the picture's performances, plot (or lack thereof), or the programme, as it were.

As you can tell, I'm exercising extreme caution with the recco, having been often burnt on similar matters in the past; the first time being with Andreas Dresen's German drama Grill Point (2002), when it premiered at the MAMI festival that year. I went totally gaga over that picture, only to receive a barrage of flak (from friends and tabloid readers alike), for what they thought was really not a picture, as we've come define it-which is not as an object of unfiltered, unfettered realism, but a form of story-telling with its definite highs and lows (a three-act structure, if you may).

Grill Point, as a movie, for the most part, belonged to Dogme 95, a '90s counter-cultural movement (pioneered by the Dutch master Lars von Trier, among others) that aimed to strip cinema of all its larger-than-life superficiality (sets, heroism, background score, stylistic camera-work, even opening and closing credits). Its perfect, early desi example I can think of, would be Ram Madhvani's Let's Talk (2002), where actor Boman Irani made his brilliant film debut.

Ribbon is about a typically middle-class, married working couple dwelling like any other Mumbaikar in an Andheri/Chembur/Malad 2 BHK, who go through the most usual slings and arrows of life as the camera observes them with the sort of closeness you'd expect the human eye to capture. My favourite portions in fact are when the shot freezes on the actor who's just delivered a line, without cutting into the co-actor for the reaction.

The couple is about to have their first child. The outstanding Sumeet Vyas and Kalki Koechlin play these lead roles. And yes, Ribbon is a life-like art-house film so far as you define it as one where you don't know what happens next (even if precious little does).

Plenty of filmmakers have mastered this genre. Few have elevated it to the level of mainstream art as Richard Linklater has. Ribbon is obviously nowhere close in expanse and scope to Linklater's Boyhood (2014). But I asked Sandilya who/what her inspirations were for her first film. She took not a second to admit, Dardenne Brothers (Rosetta, The Son, Two Days One Night)—a Belgian filmmaking duo, who have been the toast of France/Cannes, chronicling the European working class, for quite a few years now.

"I know a lot of people mention Mike Leigh (Naked, Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake) as well, when they see the film," Sandilya added, referring to the British film/theatre writer-director, whose dramas, in a similar mould, came to symbolise what's called "kitchen sink realism."

Either way, the film, much like its inspirations (whether intended or not), marry the best traditions of dramatic art, novel writing, with documentary filmmaking, letting you into a world, which is no different from your own, challenging you to simultaneously look within, as you look at the screen. Which is what I just did, yet again, to reconfirm my experience, and it works just as well in a theatre as it does on a laptop. And I was only trying to arrive at what I thought was the best Hindi/Indian film I'd seen this year. One way to do that (and be of any service as a result) is to laud the most under-rated, or actually the totally unwatched. There was hardly anyone in my theatre for the 11.15 pm LDLS.

Clearly, because no one had heard of this film, which in a sense, is life itself. Nature holds the power to replicate life. Supreme art, and sometimes great films, tend to do the same. Ribbon comes rather close.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com


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