‘Shoebox’ brings to life a world that is chaotic, cruel, unforgiving, but above all, intensely personal and intimate. This intimacy is precisely the reason why it draws the viewer deeper and deeper, ensuring that it stays with them long after they are done watching the film.
Mampu (Amrita Bagchi), a research scholar in Pune, returns to her native Allahabad due to a health emergency in the family. Her father, Madhav Chatterjee (Purnendu Bhattacharya), is a rigid man of strong beliefs, refusing to forgo smoking even in the face of dire health demands, or his theater, a relic of the past long gone and forgotten in an age of multiplexes.
Commenting on this sense of the personal, and how it gets tied with cinema, director and co-writer, Faraz Ali says, “As I moved cities and traveled far from home and then returned to it time and again, I saw unbridled change that was slowly going out of control. Of course, this is inevitable, but for each person it’s an intimate loss.
This very intimate, macro experience of a larger process of loss and displacement is what I wanted to capture in my first feature film. Because let’s face it, the only thing closest to actually living in those now-erased spaces, is recreating that world (and its sense of comfort) through cinema, which is such a wonderful tool to re-enter past worlds.”
In the process of this exploration, the film does a especially notable job to not simply conjure the father-daughter equation, but also the many forces that tug and pull at it, that shape and mold it into a dynamic that is defined by care and affection, and the desire to look out for each other, as much as it is marked by past resentments, impatience, and ensuing baggage of emotions that have been left to fester for too long.
‘Shoebox’ presents to us a world which is very distinctly its own, a metaphorical box whose walls are made of past, memories, friendship, loyalty, resentment, parental figures and their harshness, and yet, a common thread of intimacies and vulnerabilities that tie them all together. However, while Madhav may have refused to move on from the only time in his life when he truly felt happy, this world continues to march to its own beat against a backdrop of political power tussles, urbanization and modern day progress that might sometimes come at the cost of jeopardizing a city’s cultural ethos.
A space of WWF cards, strong filial and familial bonds, the urge to protect a younger family member in a way Mampu couldn’t be protected, and letting go of the grief of one family member to make space for the peace of another is constructed with the plot's progression. And yet, the various elements, constantly at war with another, are sometimes deliberately kept indifferent to the individual troubles of the protagonist, drowning her in their cacophony, ensuring that she finds herself at a moral crossroads, unable to distinguish between what is right and worth fighting for, while also safeguarding herself and those around her.
Spectacularly complementing the various emotional intricacies of the plot are the sophisticated visuals of Mahesh Aney. The resultant frames enrich the film most beautifully, ensuring that it’s precisely their presence which add a nuanced, deeply crucial layer of authenticity to the narrative.
There is much to be said about the atmosphere created as part of the experience of watching the film. And indeed, it was a result of conscious, meticulous effort by Ali who adds, "I only aimed to go beyond verbal emotions and work toward an atmospheric film.
The primary ingredient for this was the sound design. The film was set in the North Indian winter when air density increases, and since Allahabad doesn’t have many skyscrapers or tall buildings, faraway sounds are not blocked, making a peculiar acoustics of the city. Ambient sounds are amplified and they reach our homes. Trains pass in the distance and railway announcements are made. New names are heard. The sound of a city becomes the sound of our homes. And thus with time, the sounds of a changing city also become the sounds of our changing homes."
As the emotional and personal develop alongside the external, practical world, ‘Shoebox’ remains an sincere, devoted and wonderful endeavor of storytelling that especially stands out for its honesty and authenticity. There are very few rough edges (for instance Mampu’s sudden and effusive expression against sending her young cousin to a boarding school) that might come across as inorganic, but on the whole, it is easy to overlook them, simply in the name of the quiet, calm world the film evokes for you. Both Ali and co-writer Noopur Sinha are refreshing, skilled voices to look forward to.
Written by Rosheena Zehra