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At the beginning of Sunrise, we are told that over 60,000 children go missing in India every year, and it is the country’s well-documented struggle with violence against women and children that is at the heart of Partho Sen-Gupta’s latest, a surreal and haunting procedural.
Challenging and richly realized, the drama about a cop wrestling with guilt over his young daughter’s disappearance effortlessly and effectively weaves together fantasy and reality, melding the tension of cop thrillers with the introspection of a psychological drama. Sen-Gupta masterfully exploits sight and sound in a mature exploration of escalating mental anguish that should see a long, healthy festival life and could find outlets in urban art houses.
The film begins with the police department’s social services inspector Lakshman Joshi (Adil Hussain) in a frantic search on the dark, winding backstreets of Mumbai for his missing daughter Aruna before shifting to the more prosaic elements of his job. On the seediest side of Mumbai, Joshi trolls the city’s perpetually rain soaked dark side with an almost jaded attitude. Two cases that occupy his time at work are one involving a battered 16-year-old boy, Babu (Chinmay Kambli), who is brushed off as a nuisance by Joshi’s partner Patil (Hridaynath Jadhav), and another surrounding a little girl who has also gone missing. At home he does his best to deal with his traumatized wife, Leela (Tannishtha Chatterjee), who has clearly lost touch with reality in the wake of Aruna’s disappearance.
As writer-director Sen-Gupta lays the foundations for the narrative, he toggles back and forth between Joshi’s daily, grim routine and his imagination, using evocative rust-hued photography by Jean-Marc Ferriere to blur the line between the two. What is real and what is not is often obfuscated, ultimately making neither wholly reliable. Combined with Eryck Abecassis’ spare and atmospheric score the result is an impeccably crafted visual and aural representation of Joshi’s distressed state of mind. During the course of his investigations Joshi is confronted with a shadowy specter—which may or may not be real—that leads him both in his mind and in reality to a sleazy underground nightclub, Paradise, where underage girls dance for wealthy men. It’s in these realms he crosses paths with 12-year-old Naina (Esha Amlani) and her protector Komal (Gulnaaz Ansari), held hostage in a back alley apartment, evidently for use in the club.
Sunrise is technically polished, but the film’s greatest strength is Hussain (Life of Pi), who is excellent in an understated, almost wordless performance as the emotionally overwhelmed Joshi, never tipping into histrionics and always believable in his unbelievability. Sunrise is a strong feature with currency on its side that deserves an audience.
Production company: Independent Movies, Dolce Vita Films
Cast: Adil Hussain, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Ashalata Wabgaonkar, Gulnaz Ansari, Chinmay Kambli, Hridaynath Jadhav, Esha Amlani
Director: Partho Sen-Gupta
Screenwriter: Partho Sen-Gupta
Producer: Rakesh Mehra, Nina Lath Gupta, Marc Irmer, Partho Sen-Gupta
Executive producer: Vikramjit Roy
Director of photography: Jean-Marc Ferriere
Production designer: Ravin Karde
Costume designer: Kimneineng Kipgen, Chetna Rawat
Editor: Annick Raoul
Music: Eryck Abecassis
No rating, 86 minutes
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