Tryst with Destiny Movie Review: A flat, heavy-handed anthology
A striking ensemble can’t save Prashant Nair’s uneven panorama of modern India
Prashant Nair is an essayist. His feature films — Delhi in a Day, Umrika — give the sense of an argument being raised. There’s humour in them, but often the works feel like sociological texts. This is not always bad. Delineating abstract concepts—issues of caste, colour, nationality, social mobility—is a critic’s bread and butter, but we also like character and detail. It’s the latter department I wish Prashant worked a little harder at.
Tryst with Destiny, his latest work, is now out. Streaming on SonyLIV, it’s an anthology inspired by Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1947 speech; the individual episodes, four in all, are coded to the tricolour. There are other symbols: peacocks, tigers, banyan trees, hockey. It’s a fairly civics book view of India, a chance for foreign viewers to place and contextualize these stories. At least it looks that way—my search for irony and meaning, in two viewings, was mostly in vain.
Cast: Ashish Vidyarthi, Suhasini Maniratnam, Vineet Kumar Singh, Kani Kusruti, Jaideep Ahlawat, Palomi Ghosh, Amit Sial, Geetanjali Thapa
Streaming on: SonyLIV
Director: Prashant Nair
Fair and Fine
Mudiraj, a billionaire played by Ashish Vidyarthi, has dark skin. “Kala jamun,” flies a slur, as he wrestles two security guards in the sand. There’s something glorious about watching Ashish, usually the most well-dressed actor, be bare-chested in a scene. Mudiraj swims around like a pompous hippo, and is equally animal-headed in his business dealings. Achingly alarmed about his complexion, he strong-arms a rich fair chap to marry his daughter. Ashish’s stance is menacing, but is also let down by an insistent score. An earlier scene where he shows up at a friend’s—Victor Banerjee and Lillete Dubey cameo from Prashant’s first film—feels mannered and forced. It’s also absurd that Mudiraj would suddenly be so awakened about his complexion, having trudged up the hard street. Is he lying about his chaiwala origins?
An oppressed-caste family subsists on the scraps of a village. The husband, played by Vineet Kumar Singh, pulls a cart into town. Someone whispers a name—Gautam—but it’s as good as none. At night, he trails away from the hut, fixing his gaze on distant, un-dreamble stars. It’s a fleetingly beautiful moment, duly replaced by the horror we feel in our bones. Cinematographer Avinash Arun is absolutely essential here, holding a shot for three minutes without leaning into artifice. Prashant’s use of contextual sounds—harrowing, brutal—is precise, and he finds a relieving mechanism near the end. The family goes on a day-trip. They return by the cart. “Can we eat mangoes forever?” a child asks her father.
A policeman and his mistress have gone house hunting. “Isn’t the ceiling too low?” grumbles Kuber, appropriately played by Jaideep Ahlawat. The actor, who had a starring cop role in Pataal Lok, goes even further here: shredding his character of the last vestiges of shame. Set in Mumbai, this is the pulpiest of the lot, with Kuber inserting himself in a heist that goes south. I found the film tonally jarring, swinging between thriller and condensed character study. A restaurant sequence plays out like a nightmare in green, from the colour of Jaideep’s shirt to the Edamame seeds he doesn’t even order. As our hero stretches out on a parking lot floor, in the penultimate scene, it’s a sign of the character—as well the film—hitting a dead-end.
A Beast Within
Amit Sial was hugely memorable as a secondary player in Umrika. So it’s nice to see him in Tryst, though in an even slighter role still. It makes you wonder: do actors expect directors to gradually step them up in their films? What good is a reunion for, if it does not benefit both parties? Amit plays a local who, after a man-eater is caught in his area, decides to intervene. He ambushes the forest officer (Geetanjali Thapa) and her team, leading to a night’s standoff in the rain. It’s a particularly Indian standoff —you bet one of them sleeps off—and it wreaks disaster. The observation isn’t fresh (it’s barely been five months since Sherni), and Prashant has to cut the film short for a coda.
Though it may argue otherwise, Tryst with Destiny never sets its characters free. It becomes, in itself, a boundary.