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A creative writing teacher’s unfaithful wife is missing and he’s acting mighty strange in Indian writer-director Pulkit’s psycho drama Maroon, which tips its hat at Dostoyevsky and Edgar Allan Poe. Claustrophobically set within the confines of a middle-class home, the story’s not really about who-dun-it or why, but how the protag falls apart as police investigate his wife’s murder. Despite its low-budget indie look, this first feature is intriguing and offers deeper psychology than most of its ilk, making it worth a look for festivals.
Maroon is that depressing brownish red color that turns up on one of the walls; in the broader sense of marooned, it suggests the loneliness of a man cut off from society and left to his own devices as his mind unravels. When his wife, a music teacher, doesn’t come home one night, Saurabh (Manav Kaul) calls the police for help. The kind but foxy Inspector Negi (Saurabh Sachdeva) offers him words of sympathy and encouragement, but takes the necessary professional steps to find a clue inside the couple’s house. Somehow he misses a major one.
Saurabh spends a lot of time in the bathroom staring at the tub. He begins to hallucinate that it’s filled to overflowing with a maroon-colored liquid bubbling out of the plumbing. Tension builds as the doorbell keeps ringing — relatives, more police. A kittenish student, Sakshi (Devyani), insinuates herself into the house; she wants an A on her paper and is willing to do a lot to get it.
Though he’s surrounded by people who want to help, Saurabh is increasingly nervous. When he finds a woman’s finger under the dresser, he frantically searches for a way to get rid of it. Disposing of it outside the house is apparently not an option.
Furnishing some comic relief is a phone call from the school secretary demanding to know why he’s AWOL, followed by the unwelcome visit of a psychiatrist claiming to offer “human support for victims of traumatic crimes”. No wonder Saurabh can’t sleep at night, despite popping every pill in the medicine cabinet and drinking the house dry.
A symbolic scene of a violent domestic fight viewed through a neighbor’s window promises more. The ending is subtle and coy, when a splashier finale would have been more desirable. Instead, the tale ends with a few too many question marks.
In the main role, Kaul’s controlled performance holds the attention, as he progresses from angry and frustrated to alienated and delusional. Looking at the situation from inside his head, one would think he’s the victim, especially since the women in his life — his wife and his student — are so coolly faithless and manipulative. Sachdeva makes a low-key but vivid impression as the inspector.
Cinematographer Soumik Mukherjee works the lighting into the narrative arc, going from brighter to darker colors as the story unfolds. Sagar Desai’s score is off-key and scary.
Production companies: Cinemascope Motion Pictures
Cast: Manav Kaul, Saurabh Sachdeva, Sumeet Vyas, Sunil Sinha, Jayesh Sanghvi, Devyani, Kiran Thappar, Shivam Aggarwal
Director, screenwriter: Pulkit
Producers: Jyotsana Nath, Rajeshwari Nath, Bala Krishna Shetty
Executive producer: Vivek Kajaria (Holy Basil Productions)
Director of photography: Soumik Mukherjee
Production designer: Sachin Bhilare
Editor: Ujjwal Chandra
Music: Sagar Desai
Venue: Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival (India Story section)