It’s really not much of an introduction when we first meet the characters of Kaasav.
A young man, aimless, haggard and weary, wanders through a crowded metropolis after getting off a train, and a middle-aged woman looks out of the window of a high-rise to see a train pass by while pensively sipping coffee.
Something is not quite right; their impassive faces suggest loneliness. They are detached from the real world.
She has been through depression, but it hasn’t completely left her; he is going through it.
The train immediately suggests a connection. (She doesn’t see him, but depression isn’t as rare or far as one might believe. It may be closer than we think).
Their fates intertwine, of course, but not before we get to understand them better.
Directors Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar let these sequences unfold patiently. The dialogue is brief.
Time is used wisely. Things are not spelled out. Unusual, yes, but also effective.
Their first meeting is after his botched suicide attempt and eventual hasty escape from the hospital.
By the time it comes to this, we understand why she takes him in and tends to him. She’s been through this, she knows what this is like.
She sees a bit of herself in him, and this empathy drives her to dedicate herself to taking care of him. She could have left him and moved on, but she chose to stay.
Again, this is merely hinted at. These are real people, people whose pasts define their actions as opposed to characters in a film whose actions are often given context immediately after a dramatic event, something born out of lazy writing. But not here.
The very fact that Bhave and Sukthankar chose – consciously, I believe – to tell this story of two souls helping each other through a difficult phase by avoiding melodrama emphasizes on the strength of the material they worked with. There is no need for it.
The observations, a result of thorough research and compassion, no doubt, are acute. The symbolism is eminent.
The young man doesn’t respond to her kindness immediately.
For a large part of the film, he chooses to keep to himself, occasionally kicking the plate of food or medicines away out of despair.
When he finally bonds with her, our hearts soar. There is hope, there is light.
It’s a film that does not make a mighty big fuss of it.
It’s a triumph that is captured with subtlety and intelligence, without the lavish helping of drama that usually accompanies it.
The symbolism involving the turtles could not be more relevant here. She is a part of the turtle conservation program, where turtles are given shelter once they come out of water and onto land to give birth.
After delivering their offspring, the turtles go back into the water, condemning them to an uncertain fate.
The first steps would be shaky, but gradually they will learn. The optimism is comforting.
Kaasav ultimately arrives here, an utterly complete and finely-observed drama about a young man coming out of his metaphorical shell and taking those shaky first steps.
It tends to get a little too preachy at times, especially in its final half hour, but it’s a deeply satisfying experience that remains accessible even when it’s tackling a rather thorny subject.
Rare for an Indian film, indeed.
By Advait Kamat
[Kaasav won the National Award for Best Feature Film at the 64th National Awards].