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Review: Sunrise

BY: RASVANTH CHUNYLALL

What happens to the scores of children that go missing in India each year? How do their parents cope?

Using a combination of social commentary and neo noir the psychological drama, Sunrise, attempts to answer these painful questions with the results often evocative, thought-provoking and deeply disturbing.

Sunrise is broken up into three, intertwining storylines. The main one follows Inspector Joshi, a middle-age policeman, who is tasked with finding a kidnapped girl, Naina. Joshi’s own daughter, Aruna, was kidnapped from school over ten years ago and he was unsuccessful in finding her. Naina’s case subsequently causes haunting nightmares to occur in the guilt-stricken man’s psyche. Whenever he is confronted with the abuse or death of a child, Joshi finds himself running and ends up at a sleazy club called Paradise. Here, men leer and objectify underage prostitutes dancing on stage. One of these girls, Komal, is kept in a cramped apartment run by a strict den-mother. Komal is entrusted with taking care of the newly abducted Naina and develops a sisterly bond with the girl, despite their desperate situation. The third storyline is a minor one involving Babu, a teenage boy, who constantly appears at the police station where Joshi works. Babu is being abused by his father which is dismissed as a simple family dispute, the result having serious repercussions at the end of the film.

In an interview, the director, Partho Sen-Gupta, revealed that he suffered a near-kidnapping as a child. Following the birth of his daughter the memories of this experience resurfaced. Sen-Gupta also realised that the government in India was not doing much to help parents whose children had been abducted. These factors provided a powerful inspiration for the film and a delicately rendered portrayal of the psychological effects of a child’s disappearance on a family. While Joshi experiences re-occurring nightmares and displays a humourless, melancholic mood, his wife, Leela, suffers from delusions of her daughter still being present in the family. Joshi finds her reading a children’s story out aloud and she reminds him to remember to pick up Aruna from school. In another instance where the couple attempt to have sex, Leela stops, informing him that her water has broken.

Audiences will benefit from the strong direction of Sen-Gupta and the expertise of his director of photography, Jean-Marc Ferrière. Together they conjure all the hallmarks of classic film noir. There is the sombre male protagonist; a detective tortured by the dark nature of his past. The use of Mumbai’s rain-soaked, dinghy alleyways conjures up an appropriately moody atmosphere. Joshi finds himself chasing a mysterious, shadowy figure and end up at the surreal Paradise; a club that seems part reality and part guilt-ridden fantasy.

Life of Pi’s Adil Hussain does a superb job as Joshi. He is given surprisingly little dialogue to work with but carries off his role with nuance and aplomb.  Credit should also be given to the performances of the film’s female actresses. Tannishtha Chatterjee (Leela) is effective in her short but sensitive portrayal of a woman suffering the traumatic loss of her daughter. Ashalata Wabgaonkar is excellent as Radhabai, a female pimp, who runs her business with an iron-fist. Gulnaaz Ansari (Komal) uses her large, expressive eyes to great effect. Her chemistry with Esha Amlani (Naina) creates a believable pairing that will make a viewer care about what happens to their characters.

On a final note, Aruna’s namesake refers to the Hindu god of the dawn and is linked to the film’s title. Aruna’s presence, both physical and mental, dominates the narrative of the film. Sadly, the title remains ironic given that there is very little light in the film nor hope revealed for the plight of children (like Aruna) that are abducted and abused in India each year.

Rasvanth Chunylall is a Media and Cultural Studies Masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. After surviving Catwoman, he has made it his mission to help people watch good movies.

 

The “Student Media Lab” is a training workshop and writing-support mechanism implemented by Professor Keyan Tomaselli in order to equip third year and honours students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to report on the Durban International Film Festival. In its third year running the Student Media Lab is facilitated by The Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) students. CCMS is the Southern African region's premier graduate research and educational unit in media studies.