Indrasis Acharya’s new film takes a delightfully unconventional approach to a ‘thriller’
Cast: Rituparna Sengupta, Saswata Chatterjee
Director: Indrasis Acharya
‘Aamra ekta bhagar ay baash korchhi’ – around the 90-minute mark of Indrasis Acharya’s slow-burn exposé of the ugliness of contemporary society, a character tells the film’s protagonist Nandini (Rituparna Sengupta). The word ‘bhagar’ translates loosely to a wasteland littered with carcasses left to rot or for vultures to devour. That statement lies at the heart of Parcel and film-maker Indrasis Acharya ingeniously uses the ‘thriller’ as a format to peel the masks off our pretences.
Indrasis Acharya ingeniously uses the ‘thriller’ as a format to peel the masks off our pretences.
From all appearances it is a happy family – the film begins with doting parents Nandini and Shouvik (Saswata) attending their teenage daughter’s music lesson. Both parents are medical professionals, though Nandini has taken a sabbatical ostensibly to care for their daughter. They live in a well-appointed house in a suitably tony neighbourhood and for all practical purposes it is the very picture of domestic bliss. But wait … did I get a sense of the family being surreptitiously watched as they left the daughter’s music lesson and got on to their car – it’s a fleeting sequence, holding barely a few seconds. But it, and a few other similar sequences when the camera seems to be actually ‘watching’ the family, left me feeling queasy – and to the director’s credit he leaves it at that, offering no explanation, spelling nothing out.
And then begins the descent into the heart of darkness. An anonymous parcel carrying an innocuous enough gift (a photo album) arrives for Nandini even as the family is celebrating her birthday. There’s some mild banter about a secret admirer but it cannot mask the uneasiness the protagonists begin to feel – one that only aggravates as these parcels keep arriving. In a matter of days, all the family’s certainties lie shattered and the secrets the family has taken care to keep locked away threaten to come tumbling out.
It is not germane who is sending the parcels or even what they contain – it is how they cause the protagonists to react, what it tells about their characters that is fascinating.
It is not germane who is sending the parcels or even what they contain – it is how they cause the protagonists to react, what it tells about their characters that is fascinating. And Indrasis is too good a director to reveal it all – he peels the layers off one at a time, teasing you with a bite of information while holding back the ‘big secret’. You know there’s something in Nandini’s past that’s unsavoury and that she would do anything to keep under wraps, and yet the director never reveals it. So, right to the end, when the family moves to their ancestral home, away from the stinking city, hoping for closure, you are held in thrall to the narrative. And knowing how the director has played you over 120 minutes, it is no surprise that he ends the film on the note he does. There is no escape from our lies and secrets.
What do you do when doctors themselves are in need of healing? How does one cope with a situation where both doctors and patients have genuine grievances and frustrations?
What adds to the film’s potency is the scathing social commentary Indrasis makes on the medical profession. That flows almost as a parallel strand but is masterfully woven into the narrative – what do you do when doctors themselves are in need of healing? How does one cope with a situation where both doctors and patients have genuine grievances and frustrations?
In Rituparna Sengupta, Indrasis has an actor of such range that the effortlessness with which she carries the film comes as no surprise.
In Rituparna Sengupta, Indrasis has an actor of such range that the effortlessness with which she carries the film comes as no surprise. It is a character of many shades, vulnerable, resigned, yet willing to go any length to protect herself and her family, which often reveals a cruel streak in her, most visibly in the way she treats a friend she believes is sending her the parcels. Indrasis’s writing adds immeasurably to Nandini – most notably in the way she is as disgusted with the infidelity she suspects her husband of, yet in the same breath ‘offers’ herself for a day to an ex-flame who too she thinks could be sending the parcels, if only he would stop. Rituparna is magnificent as a woman slowly going off the hinges.
I have called Parcel a thriller – yet to his credit, the director eschews the conventions of the genre. He never takes you by the scruff of the neck and pushes you headlong into the vortex of action. That would be the easy way out. He is not afraid to be unconventional in the way he executes the ‘action’. He puts the narrative on slow boil, cajoling the strands out of the characters, so that the tension never explodes, and neither the characters nor the viewer has any respite. And in that lies the film’s greatest strength.
Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books).