Friday, March 14, 2008

26th July at Barista 

If there is a story just waiting to be told, be sure there will be a director just waiting to slaughter it. 26th July at Barista is one of those—amazing, that nobody before Mohan Sharma (and his writer Rahil Qazi) saw the potential of making a movie with the great deluge of July 26, 2005 as a backdrop, and what a pity the film turns out to be such an unwatchable dud.

If there were any people in the cinemahall at all, it must have been because a) they had nothing better to do b) remembered that day of horror and wanted to see what the filmmaker had done with it. After the mandatory voiceover, Sharma collects a rather clueless bunch of random people at a coffee shop, with kind and helpful staff (the likes of which this reviewer has never encountered at Barista!). You don't know what hour of the day it is, presumably late afternoon, by which time the city was already deep under water; but some people walk in and out, as if nothing happened, and some look terror struck. The ones inside the café wake up in fits and starts.

There's a worried Sikh couple, waiting for new of their kids, who went for a picnic, a film writer, a struggler, two singles looking for love, some others, who wander away never to be seen again. The struggler sits like a statue in corner with her legs crossed, the Sikh woman wails sporadically, the writer glares at everyone, and the singles alternately flirt with each other or try to help others caught in the downpour.

It is obviously a shoe-string budget effort, so there are a couple of very fake looking flood scenes staged, some news footage, a couple of scenes of families worrying for those marooned in the café. At some point the power goes off, but since they couldn't shoot in the dark, an urchin drops by a cache of fat candles, because, as he says, his life is in the dark. "Oh, and you still spread light," says someone.

Absurdly, a cop strolls in to investigate a robbery in a bank next door and terrorizes everyone; a gang-rape victim comes in sobbing to express concern for the men who did it, because she has AIDS! And so on.. everything about the film so laughably inept. As a break from the bunch of unknowns cast, Rohini Hattangady, Raju Kher and Amita Nangia get a scene each. And then the film ends as abruptly as it started, with none of the stories getting any closure.

If the film was meant as a branding exercise for the café in its title, then it badly misfires!


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