Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Three young men bathe and swim ashore in the mighty Brahmaputra, put on clothes and walk away, one of them picking up a discarded shirt from the river bank. This drone capture of an everyday routine is how filmmaker Shrutismriti Changkakoti welcomes us to her world of Before Spring, but this is no mere introduction; we realise later that it’s a wonderful metaphor for the story she is about to tell, and when that aerial angle comes around towards the end to complete a circle, you are pushed to tears. The tenderly captured Assamese film Before Spring is a poignant tale about escaping realities, written with a lot of empathy for the characters the story chooses to follow.

When we see Jun (Abhijit Roy), taking his crush, Dulu (Himbarsha Das), out on a date to the river bank, his eyes glint with hope and you might just miss all the world-weariness he carries within. Dulu, hailing from a rich, upper-caste family, shows Jun, a dropout working at a boat service, any attention only because…he’s just there. And so when she stops visiting him, Jun is hit with the reality of his life, the pangs of love, how society sees him and the regret of failing in his exams.

Abhijit Roy in a still from ‘Before Spring’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Meanwhile, Majoni (Upsana Priyam), a teenage schoolgoer, is obsessed over Pradeep (Monuj Borkotoky), her 20-something tutor whose love letter she just can’t stop re-reading. The obsession, however, pulls her into a lonely pit when he stops visiting her. When she can no longer take it, she rushes out to find Pradeep, a quest that only breaks her more.

Before Spring (Assamese)

Director: Shrutismriti Changkakoti

Cast: Abhijit Roy, Dipjyoti Kakoti, Upsana Priyam, Himbarsha Das

Runtime: 86 minutes

Storyline: A teenage school dropout’s reality is upended when his lady love deserts him due to his background; a teenage girl’s obsession over her tutor pulls her into a pit when his true intentions come out; and an elderly man struggling to keep his grocery store afloat breaks down over the state of his family

It is in the introduction of the third lead of the story that Shrutismriti uses a simple, impressive subversion. We see a middle-aged woman, irked by the inquisitiveness of a neighbour about her personal affairs, rush into her house, just as her young teenage daughter comes out to go on a date with her lover. The girl, Rekha, then tells her boyfriend that she simply cannot stay at her home anymore.

Like Majoni and Jun, the middle-aged woman and Rekha also struggle to cope with the world they live in, but the film’s lens fascinatingly zooms in on the male of the house. Monikanta’s (Dipjyoti Kakoti) life is at a point of stagnation. He struggles to keep his grocery store afloat and is well aware that his marriage to his wife has long fallen apart. His wife, much younger and the sole earner of the family, emasculates him with chides for not being able to fend for the family. Old Moni da cannot even assert any parental authority over his daughter when he finds a cigarette among her belongings; he’s aware of her displeasure with the life she’s leading.

Dipjyoti Kakoti in a still from ‘Before Spring’

Dipjyoti Kakoti in a still from ‘Before Spring’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

The film seamlessly cuts between the three tracks, nothing inorganic or out of the ordinary interrupting its flow. Shrutismriti exercises a wonderful economy in dialogue, camera movement and background score, emphasising only what the scenes need to convey. Take, for instance, a single shot that pans around Majoni’s room; on the surface, it shows the daydreams of a hormonal teenager in love but it also ambiguously coveys that Pradeep at some point might have gotten too close to the minor girl, which is all he has ever cared about. Only the scene that has Jun visit Dulu’s house and find out some heartbreaking truths sticks out like a sore thumb due to its dramatic, conventional staging.

Shrutismiti performs an intricate balancing act in how much to tell and how much to let the audiences build their assumptions around. A scene that has Dulu trying her sister’s saree and jewellery tells you why she does what she does but you are left to wonder why she could never break out of her family’s conditioning and if Jun was really just “a boyfriend to go on bike rides with.” Why Majoni falls for Pradeep is almost too obvious; at her age, for someone living such a desolate existence, any showcase of affection should be life-affirming. The lack of a support system is also why she is not ready to believe that Pradeep is merely lusting after her. With Monikanta, the cards are all kept open, but something more about Rekha and her relationship with her boyfriend would have made the whole affair feel more complete.

The conflicts in these three tracks might come across as lacking in drama to most moviegoers, but that’s the allure of Before Spring; some of these ideas might seem routine on the surface but the film does enough to make you think of the many intersections of caste, class, age, and gender that are also in play.

Upasana Priyam in a still from ‘Before Spring’

Upasana Priyam in a still from ‘Before Spring’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Standing tall to support Shrutismiti’s vision is cinematographer Jayanth Sethu Mathavan, who took our breath away earlier this year with the Tamil drama Good Night; here, he trains his lens on the intimate settings of the households of Jun, Dulu, Majoni and Moni da but also the beautiful landscapes of Assam with Brahmaputra taking the centre light. From the visuals of Jun breaking down and venting by draining out water lodged in his boat, to the shot towards the end that has the boat moving towards the setting sun, many a frame end up lingering on your mind.

At one point, when Upasana, who is truly impressive as Majoni, wonderfully expresses the feeling of a certain heaviness lifting away from her heart, you feel it as well; perhaps that’s the image one might carry for longer from this tender, heartbreaking and hopeful story. For Shrutismriti Changkakoti, Before Spring is a truly impressive debut and one can’t wait to see what she does next.

The writer was in Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio, Guwahati, Assam, at the invitation of the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival

By admin

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