Written, directed and produced by Rahul D.
Starring: Sudarshana Das and Sumit Ghoshal
I have always found it somewhat charming that older and plenty of newer Indian films, from various regions, not only begin with a note that ‘Smoking [and/or Consumption of alcohol] is injurious to health’, but will sometimes remind you of this fact in miniscule print at the bottom of every single frame in the film which might feature one of these dangerous vices. In a handful of Indian states, alcohol is of officially banned, but normally these warnings merely come across as a sign of a visual culture far more hesitant than our own (for better and worse) to display the details of such lifestyle choices that we would consider pretty tame, commonly found in family films without mention.
Rahul D’s new short film, When A Nightmare Comes True, is preceded by such a message, only this time the risk is not from cigarettes or drinks, but pornography. In Britain at least, such a statement would be taken as a highly politicised claim. To my mind, it was refreshing, and agreeable, to see it as taken for granted, with such frankness. But what in socio-political discourse might be seen as admirably bold is, in the context of cinema becomes the flipside of that same coin, namely unwanted bluntness. There are many interesting ways to tackle this subject matter from a more conservative, or merely cautionary perspective; try to forget them while watching When A Nightmare Comes True, for they will all be better than what was actually tried here. And it doesn’t help that the title – whose letter abbreviation is so very close to the perfect summary of the film – also spoils its faintest barrel-scraping of a plot.
We first meet Sumit Ghoshal actively disobeying the precredit health recommendation. He has little of a discernible character beyond this particular habit. Certainly we never see him do anything else, except sleep. While he sleeps he has what is initially a very good dream, which in time-honoured fashion is made to seem like real-life, but in this case not by convincing verisimilitude (after all, this is lacking when he’s awake too) so much as utterly un-dreamlike mundanity of conversation and event. This might be a nice touch, if Rahul had managed to find some better actors. In the dream, Ghoshal’s Sameer meets Sudarshana Das as a woman calling herself Mohini. The actress makes things slightly less unwatchable with her blatant sensuality, yet neither she nor Ghoshal make one line of dialogue authentic, be it Hindi or English. I’ll leave you to find out the progression of Sameer’s dream – suffice to say, at some point he wakes up, and what feels an eternity later the film ends.
In fairness to them, neither cast-member is helped by Rahul’s directing, which utilises several tools from Bollywood, and gets away with almost none of them. Primarily, I refer to the tradition of rather haphazardly dubbing the dialogue in post-production. It’s one thing to go for this when you have dynamic Hindi film-stars nailing both their visual expression and their vocal registers; here it makes every interaction that much more painful, and Ghoshal’s performance is cluttered with oddly overmixed extraverbal noises. There are also those sudden snippets of obnoxious singing or chanting injected at supposedly shocking or amusing moments that were unbearable even when Karan Johar used them early on in his career. The score might have at least prodded at the eroticism, tension or horror vacant elsewhere – no such luck. Even at just fifteen minutes, the film manages to be boring. I can’t help mirroring its bluntness and simply labelling it the disaster it is.