Directed by: #AnkitSingha
Written by: #AnkitSingha
Depending on where you are in the world, you’re now between 8-12 months on from your country’s first wave of COVID. And if you’re lucky (unlike your UK-based reviewer) you have only had to experience one full-blown lockdown. No matter where you are though there is one wave that we are all experiencing at the exact same time – the wave of introspective lockdown-filmed short movies. Shilpi is one such film, which makes admirable efforts to stand out but spends too long getting to its message to leave a real impact.
Shilpi is set during India’s COVID lockdown. It is the story of Abir (Homagni Bhattacharjee) and his uncle Hiresh (Manindra Narayan Sakar) as they cohabitate a small apartment whilst the world is at a halt. Abir is a college student with big dreams, who views his senior uncle as decrepit and elderly despite the high regard he holds him personally. As they are forced together through circumstance, Abir’s perception of his uncle, as well as his own view of artistic attainment, is developed and reshaped into a profound understanding of the world.
Shilpi is an experimental and innovative attempt add comment on the current pandemic, whilst also addressing wider and deeper questions on relationships between ‘artists’ and those who teach them art. It attacks these questions with a varying degree of success. The film is long and drawn out, with little dialogue between the 2 main characters. This does create an interesting dynamic and effectively portrays the mental barriers that exists between them, but it is frankly not very interesting to watch. Director Ankit Singha is wise to restrict the film to a shade over 50 minutes to maintain this vision, which allows the movies unique style to crescendo at the perfect time without overstaying its welcome.
The acting is superb and both Homagni Bhattacharjee and Manindra Narayan Sakar give authentic and moving performances. Both men bring a quiet physicality to their roles, and the added innovations such as a pang of fear to their faces as the other man splutters or coughs will feel close to home for any viewer. Performed in Bengali, non-native speakers will lose nothing as so much of the story is told through these slight interactions. If anything, it is they who suffer the most from the film’s shorter running time as more characterisation would be welcome.
The film is shot in 1:1 aspect ratio and there is a graininess to the texture of the shot – as though we are witnessing a private home movie. Such choices are always a risk and could have doomed the project to ‘gimmick’ territory, but thankfully Singha’s choice pays off. The result instead is a more intimate and personal experience that fits well with the film’s themes of connection and bonds that keep us together.
Shilpi is unlikely to blow anyone away, and suffers from too long of a wait before really addressing its key themes. This could be a fatal flaw for a film under the hour mark, but innovative filmmaking and strong performances make it a worthwhile watch.