Starring: Konkona Sensharma, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Priyanka Bose, Soumitra Chatterjee, Lolita Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chaterji, Arijit Dutta, Barun Chanda
Directed by: Goutam Ghose
Running time: 138 minutes
In Shunyo Awnko, director Goutam Ghose ventures into an intense exploration of the intricate contradictions and multi-layered co-existing complex realities of the Indian landscape. Such themes, strongly embedded in socio-politically engaged thought, string together as the common thread in Ghose’s body of work with his other movies like Paar, Dekha and Kaalbela.
The film’s title Shunyo Awnko, translated as “Act Zero”, alludes to the narrative countdown to Act Zero as the film ‘zeros’ in on conveying Ghose’s message of exposing the dichotomy of this country that on the one hand aspires to be counted among the leading nations of the world, while it paradoxically still continues to battle with inner conflicts and turmoil that create factions and divisions within the troubled fabric of its cultural framework.
Konkona Sensharma, with her trademark brand as a powerhouse serious performer, plays reporter Raka Biswas very close to the bone, lending subtle complexity to her character. Raka represents the ideals of journalism with her objectivity and balanced approach to her subject. She is troubled by the problems and concerns of this country. Coming from a background of three years of Page 3 journalism, Raka finally enjoys sinking her teeth into such subject matter as she ventures out on her own personal journey in order to come to a deeper understanding of her nation.
Stalwart and veteran Soumitra Chatterjee plays Kabir Chowdhury, a retired scientist, who lives a secluded and reclusive life in a hill station. He stays with his refined, cultured wife Laila, played by Lolita Chatterjee who suffers from a psychological problem that lurks beneath her calm exterior as the perfect hostess. The old couple supplement their income for their retirement years by renting out their home. This man of science is completely taken up by the wonders of cyber space, which he fantasises is a potential key to putting an end to war as he works on his utopian project for world peace called “War Against Weapons”.
|Konkona Sensharma plays reporter Raka Biswas very close to the bone, lending subtle complexity to her character
Yet another veteran actor, Dhritiman Chaterji astounds as Dr Prabal Roy, an idealist and a civil rights movement member, who has given up everything to devote his entire focus and life’s work to running a free clinic in Chhattisgarh, in a tribal belt that is plagued with unrest. He tells Raka about the long history of tribal struggle where they kept revolting but were never conquered, as, “a man can be destroyed but not defeated”. His view is that lasting peace can only come from a movement towards equality.
Priyanshu Chatterjee once again (after Paanch Adhyay) delivers a nuanced performance as Agni Bose, a corporate guy who hails from a middle-class background and as a social climber suffers from an on-going inner battle arising from his feelings of duty towards his organisation versus the predicament of the local tribal people. His character’s perplexing journey witnesses an India with two faces, while his growing relationship with Raka compels him to discover an introspective and more philosophical side to himself.
Jhilik, Agni Bose’s wife, played by the fresh talent Priyanka Bose, is an ex-air hostess who has settled into the persona of a bored housewife who feels trapped in a marriage where her days are filled with loneliness, and inevitable ripples in the relationship between husband and wife occur due to Agni’s association with Raka. When Agni and Jhilik decide to try and salvage their marriage by going on a vacation, they stay at Kabir and Laila Chowdhury’s home as paying guests. There is a sweet scene where the young couple are huddled upstairs like a couple of teenagers, stealing a quick drink before dinner, trying to disguise it from the older couple, for fear of offending them. But when they come down for dinner, it is Kabir Chowdhury who offers the young man a drink!
Arijit Dutta’s character, the radical Arjun Munda, interestingly, over-arches the extremities of social strata, having been born in a humble tribal home, to then join the ranks of the privileged classes, and be educated in a convent school, thanks to his father becoming a minister. Arjun is so dead against corruption that he becomes an activist joining forces with a human rights group. Barun Chanda makes a surprise appearance as Agni’s boss, who represents the sophisticated front of corporate governance.
The pleasant music and specially the song Dhushor chul by Anupam Roy lingers on. The tasteful decor by Anandi Ghose aesthetically brings out the flavour of the living spaces of the characters, while the cinematography captures the beauty and nuances of picturesque Manali where a lot of the film is set.
While Shunyo Awnko focuses on the harsh darker realities of our troubled times, the spirit of the film sees a silver lining in the power of belief and the positive spirit of individuals who care and feel that they can make a difference, by working towards a change for the better.