Juhi Chaturvedi’ script, “October”, directed by Shoojit Sircar, refuses to leave you once it ends. There is a contemplative, aching tone which seeps into your being like Shantanu Moitra’s soft soundtrack which is more silent in its approach; like the shadow of a tree getting larger while the tree stays still.
There is no plot, no action, no entertainment, not even a second-long emotional melodrama given the premise of a tragic event changing the lives of those around. There is no hero and no heroine. There is no Varun Dhawan (for the fans). There is no villain.
There is a lost 21-year-old boy: Dan (Dhawan). He is a Hotel Management trainee who doesn’t want to clean bed sheets. His father is based in Jammu and he has come to Intern at a 5-star hotel. He wants his own Start-Up some day and constantly whines about being given useless work of vacuum cleaning the hotel rooms.
There is a 20-year-old, bright and sincere girl called Shiuli (Banita Sandhu). Shiuli does her job really well and is always given the more popular responsibilities of serving the hotel customers at reception desks. She doesn’t take Dan’s digs at her personally. “Itni intelligent hai to scientist kyon nahin bani…hotel management kyon kar rai hai…” ,he objects rudely to the seniors who praise her. Shiuli simply ignores him, even when he mocks her fondness for collecting her favourite seasonal October flowers: Parijat ( Coral Jasmine).
The flowers are the only predictable symbolic objects here. The tree is called the ‘tree of sorrow”. When first seen through Avik Mukhopadhyay’s lens, they look like a hazy and beautiful early morning dream. The screen looks magical with trees bearing the fresh and pure white flowers. We see them through Shiuli’s wondrous eyes and we are filled with the sense of wonder ourselves. Later, the flowers make occasional, fleeting appearances as a reminder of what October is all about: fleeting seasons of change and the beauty of each and the inevitable sense of waiting and sorrow.
Waiting is all one can do, when the course of life changes its turns, just like the course of nature. So Dan waits. Along with Shiuli’s mother, sister, a teenage brother, for Shuili to move a muscle, to simple twitch her jaw or shift her eyeballs: left to say ‘yes’ to the doctor’s question, right to say ‘no’. Her still form, lying in a hospital bed is an excruciating sight to behold. It is merely addressed by the most inane conversation that only two scared and ignorant youngsters can have.
“There were 19 tubes on her body.’
……..tu kabhi ICU gaya hai?
Main do baar gaya hoon
Kal ur aaj.”
…yaar meri hawa nikal gayi thi…”
Light, shallow, realistic moments like these, ease the pain of waiting and watching. But the film does not shy away from the helplessness of it all. There is no attempt at heroic drama of Dan turning into the star Varun Dhawan who will suddenly claim to fall in love and magically find the resources to fly Shuili out somewhere in Karan Johar’s world of “Kal Ho Na Ho” or the tragic interplay of lost love. Instead we see Dan simply searching for his visiting card under Shuili’s hospital bed just as a visitor friend would, inquisitively looking at the bottle of urine under the bed and discussing it with the nurse and even finding hope in the body continuing to do its function while the brain may take its time to respond.
And just like that, without a major, dramatic turning point, the mood of the film changes from the mundane of hotel laundry and vaccum jobs to a shocking life event to endless and futile human queries at a hospital to the only one wonder of life : HOPE.
Hope in the form of a urine pouch filling up more as days go by; hope in the form of Jasmine flower petals bringing the sense of smell alive, in an otherwise lifeless body; hope in the form of a positive change coming over a lost boy who sees more meaning in simply hanging out with a family waiting at a hospital, than in trying to keep his job; hope in the form of a mother reaching out to another (devoid of histrionics and yet leave you moist eyed); hope in the form of colleagues connecting at the only level which matters—that of being simply human.
“October” may not entertain or engage like Shoojit and Juhi’s “Vicky Donor’ or “Piku”, but it makes that deep human connect, without the laughter or tears, a single playing-to –the-gallery dialogue or songs. Only one simple line matters here: “Where is Dan?” It’s an almost perfunctory question which changes the way a man perceives himself. It does a classic job of showcasing the ultimate human need to be needed, to be noticed, to be given the importance he craves.
In its gentle, flowing narrative and meditative contemplation of life and its coming of age journey with apt rest house locations of a hotel and a hospital with the beautiful tree providing the answers, the stillness travels with you outside the theatre, onto the desperate busy streets. And you take that time to stand and stare, smell that rose, smile at that stranger and talk to a friend with more empathy.
That lasting, much needed theme of empathy is “October’s true and meaningful gift.