By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
“Can you rape him?” the distraught wife asks her stunned husband after she encounters her rapist from the past.
It’s a damning and defining moment in a film that moves within a closed circle of intimate purgation, creating for itself pockets of passionate introspection as the narration moves from angst to angst in search of a relevance to lives that bear the wounds of the past in welters of insurgency.
Like a wild flower blooming in the sinister mountains of Mizoram, DANSH is a film that needs careful nurturing. It isn’t an easy watch. Nor is it an abstruse art house film. DANSH creates its own niche and then watches its three main characters grow into terrifying emblems of contemporary dereliction.
A husband Matthew and his tortured wife Maria are suffering the aftermath of a political upheaval in their home. As the legacy of their insurgent past shows up in the form of a drunken doctor (Aditya Shrivastava) the wife Maria (Sonali Kulkarni) realizes their guest is the beast who raped and tortured her in the past.
The opposition between a tormented past and a disembodied present is keenly juxtaposed. Debutante director Kanika Verma proves herself to be akin to none of her filmmaking sisters… or brothers, for that matter! The intense manner in which she balances political and personal violence provides glimpses of a remarkable talent.
The film’s main theme of three entrapped souls struggling with their conscience in a cavernous house one night is derived straightaway from Roman Polanski’s Death & The Maiden. Though Sonali Kulkarni lacks the range that made Siourney Weaver’s performance in the original blow the screen apart, she nevertheless gets a reasonably accurate feel of her character’s pulse.
Kulkarni’s Maria is a traumatized woman on the verge of a breakdown. Could she be imagining their guest as her rapist from the past? We’re never quite sure, even when the tortured doctor is made to sign a confession.
In Sonali Kulkarni’s character’s fragile insecurities lies the key to Kanika Verma’s traumatized kingdom. The director’s deals with her heroine’s violent past and immediate demeanour with dispassionate directness. The sequence where Maria hysterically hits out at her alleged tormenter pulls out all stops as far as exceeding the limits of feminine decorum go.
Alas, Sonali Kulkarni is unable to walk that extra mile to keep pace with her director’s vision. Kay Kay Menon, however, gives a splendidly controlled performance as the husband who must come to terms with his wife’s past trauma and his betrayals and insecurities before the night is through. Doing away with his grimacing mannerisms Kay Kay gets to the core of his character to extract the elixir of existence from the clenched plot.
The film is partially let down by its third protagonist’s weak performance, and also by some strange and entirely uncalled-for songs and poetry that look like bits of Muzaffar Ali floating into Govind Nihalani’s territory. As for the celebration song at the outset… it’s like a pubescent discovering autoeroticism for the first time.
To the debutante director’s credit, she sure makes telling use of sound. Arun Nambiar’s sound design and Fazal Qureshi’s background score elevate the three-character one-set situation into an emblem of infinite resonance, not all entirely lucid or even coherent, but certainly indicative of a vision that transcends the trite and mundane clichés of on-screen drama.
The bits about Mizoram’s troubled separatist politics don’t jell as well as the triangular character study. Kanika Verma doesn’t make as expressive use of her political background as Sudhir Mishra in Hazaaron Khawishein Aisi. She’s far more comfortable peering into lacerated lives whose wounds know no healing.
In her endeavour to go for the kill with skill, the director gets remarkable support from two of her main actors and from cinematographer Chirantan Das who seeks bright beams of piercing light in the abject darkness that envelopes the three central lives even as a tentative political dawn opens its arms outside.