TALKING FILMS

Rajat Kapoor’s ‘Private Detective’ is pulp for the brain

The never-released cerebral thriller is being shown for the first time in Mumbai.

Rajat Kapoor’s filmmaking career did not start on an auspicious note. Private Detective: Two Plus Two Plus One, made in 1997 after he graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, was never released. It would take him six years to make his second feature, the crowd-sourced dark comedy Raghu Romeo. The movies have followed in spurts since, and Kapoor has carved out an estimable career in acting and stage direction on the side. Audiences in Mumbai finally have the chance to watch Private Detective at a free screening organised by indie producer Drishyam Films on January 27. The screening is the second in a series called The Masters, and follows a first-time public airing of Sriram Raghavan’s Raman Raghav.

Private Detective betrays the influence of Kapoor’s mentors, Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul. The stylised acting and shot taking, stilted dialogue delivery (the high-flown Hindi is by Kamal Swaroop), indirect narrative and unconventional genre treatment are all instances of Kapoor trying to straddle between the high-minded pleasures of arthouse cinema and the pulp thrills of noir.

Naseeruddin Shah as ‘Colonel.’
Naseeruddin Shah as ‘Colonel.’

The plot covers infidelity, betrayal, murder and blackmail – all par for the course as far as the genre territory is concerned. The central character, an ex-Indian Army officer referred to only as Colonel and played by Naseeruddin Shah, traces his lineage to the crooked shamuses of American noir. Colonel is shadowing Amrita (Kashmira Shah), the sultry wife of businessman Raj (Kenneth Desai). Amrita is two-timing Raj with a common friend Harish (Aly Khan), who is married to Meghna (Shambhavi Kaul). These are the “two plus two” of the title, and the “plus one” is, of course, Colonel, whose role in the affair gets complicated when Amrita is killed.

The cast includes cameos by director Saeed Mirza and Irrfan, in one of his earliest roles as a police inspector. Mumbai is equally a character in the movie, whether it is the grungy worlds that Colonel inhabits, including his modest apartment, his old-fashioned office and the dives where he meets clients, or the stylish abodes of Raj and Harish. The lack of privacy in Mumbai comes handy when Colonel has to collect evidence of Amrita and Harish canoodling. The movie serves several reminders of how beautiful the city was until before the government let builders loose on its precious few open spaces. A few scenes are shot in front of a sea-facing bungalow in Bandra in north Mumbai that is now better known as Mannat, the home of superstar Shah Rukh Khan. The previously open-faced bungalow faces the sea, and and has featured in several films, including Mr India. Its façade is now shielded by high walls, while the hill behind has been covered by buildings.

The bungalow now owned by Shah Rukh Khan and called Mannat.
The bungalow now owned by Shah Rukh Khan and called Mannat.

Private Detective invokes noir conventions but is also a commentary on the genre. In a hilarious sequence, Colonel tries to tail Amrita but loses her – noir is defeated by the logic of Mumbai traffic. The 130-minute narrative is not about the crime, and there is no mystery about who kills Amrita – we see the murderer. The movie’s interest lies in exploring the elegant unravelling of four inter-twined lives. Rafey Mahmood’s gliding, ever-present camera meticulously captures the piece-by-piece demolition of two marriages. Mahmood has shot several of Kapoor’s movies, including Raghu Romeo, Mithya and Aankhon Dekhi. He frames the characters beautifully in close-ups and mid-shots, especially in the sequence in which Meghna realises, by watching Amrita at a disco, that her so-called best friend is having it on with her husband. In another sequence after the murder, Harish looks at his seemingly timid wife with fresh eyes, suddenly aware of how things have changed for the both of them. Nothing, and everything, is said.

There is a lot of watching and being watched in this thriller for the brain. Even Captain’s tawdry photographs, in his view, are minor works of art. When he meets Amrita to bargain for a better deal than the one Raj is offering, he says, “I have been searching for a fan for my artistry.”

That line pretty much sums up the movie.

Amrita and Harish are caught on camera.
Amrita and Harish are caught on camera.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.