Is life inherently melancholic, with happiness being an anomaly that tends to appear in short, unexpected bursts? October starts off with this exact premise, showing mundane, unattractive instances in the life of its protagonists. Dan (Varun Dhawan) and Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) are both interns at a five-star hotel in Delhi along with some of their friends. While Dan is perpetually unhappy and on the verge of getting kicked out, Shiuli is sincere and hardworking with a spotless record.
Tragedy strikes in form of a freak accident, and Shiuli suffers grave physical injuries and goes into coma. Dan, who wasn’t very good friends with Shiuli and had not even talked to her much, starts feeling an attachment towards her when he gets to know that she had asked about him before she got injured. That is literally October’s plot; I haven’t even tried to be concise here. Therein lies the strength of the film - writer Juhi Chaturvedi writes a script which exercises so much clarity and control over the characters that after a point, one stops caring about the individual performances themselves. Director Shoojit Sircar and Juhi are clearly operating away from their established comfort zones of quirky, feel-good films like Piku and Vicky Donor, but they combine to produce their best film to date.
One of the first things that I appreciated after October ended was the significance of its title and the usage of the October flowers as motifs. In a sense, Shiuli’s character mirrors the short-lived, fragrant, attractive flowers themselves. References to these flowers keep popping up throughout the film right till the end, and the parallels are never given away in an obvious fashion. This impressed me on two counts :-
The usage of motifs in Hindi cinema has been few and far between. I cannot think of any film off the top-of-my-head that uses motifs in such a subtle, effective way.
Shoojit and Juhi are never trying to spoon-feed you with references. They induce a design wherein you really have to think to live the film, but without feeling it to be too high-handed or out-of reach. Again, a rarity in Hindi cinema.
I won’t talk more about the usage of motifs in fear of giving away spoilers, but if you have watched the film and are completely clueless of what I am talking about, hit me up!
The trailer of October was one of the most well-made trailers to come out in recent times. It was everything a trailer should be - well-cut, non-revealing, but still very very exciting.
Dan and Shiuli do not outwardly love each other. While Dan starts feeling for her after her accident, Shiuli’s feelings are kept secret throughout the film, with ample clues along the way for each of us to build our own interpretations. I got a sense that the writer wanted to portray the banality, and more importantly, the shallow-ness of love (a review online seems to agree). One other issue that October attempts to discuss is that of euthanasia, often posing the question ‘Does anybody really want to die?’ This question does come up at regular intervals, and its answers, though not being overcome by emotions, are often used as a segue into sombre moods.
I really don’t know how tough playing a disabled individual is, but Banita Sandhu managed to impress me on her debut. Considering that she is young, not yet completed college, does not speak Hindi very well (she was born and raised in London, also lives there) and has had no acting experience prior to this, Banita delivers a very mature, measured performance. She could have easily been a version of the plastic Nargis Fakhri of Rockstar, but to her credit, she manages not to be that. I hope she keeps doing more films. Gitanjali Rao as Shiuli’s mother emotes as if she is a master of grief and sadness. The subtleties that she puts into her performance is highly appreciable.
Before going into October, I had fervently wished that Varun’s performance be good. Varun has largely done out-and-out masala flicks in the past, save for Badlapur, in which he was the weakest link among some brilliant actors like Vinay Pathak, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi and Radhika Apte. I think October marks the film where Varun has come into his own. In his best, most complex performance to date, Varun gets all the basics of acting right, something which he was failing at all this time. Credit to Shoojit for moulding Varun as Dan, but the other way round too - Varun is giving a few comic lines (albeit in very serious situations) which he nails with absolute ease. Varun surely has a long way to go to be perfect - there are scenes where we are led to believe that Varun was probably not the best choice for the role - but the future looks good, given that he has films like Sui Dhaaga lined up.
October is a brave film. One can’t hope to make a lot of money in Bollywood by making a film on the nature of sadness itself. Add to that the absence of songs and the non-spoonfeeding nature of the storytelling, and we know how big a risk the filmmakers are taking. Shoojit and team, your effort is highly appreciated.
I seriously hope the year gets better for films from now onwards. Till then, listen to the fabulous theme music of October.