'CRD': Film Review

CRD - still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Kanadé Films
Entrancingly strange and vibrant.

A college theater competition in Pune, India, is the starting point for an irreverent, category-defying exploration of the artistic impulse.

The playful riffs in CRD swirl around a group of student writers and actors during the run-up to a prestigious contest. Not every strain of Kranti Kanadé’s eccentric symphony of a third feature will be comprehensible to Western audiences (the film recently opened stateside), but the overall effect is that of a talented filmmaker striking an impressive balance between intensity and lightness. 

Kanadé, who handled the film’s production and costume design, is an assured visual stylist who finds a strong creative partner in cinematographer Daniel Katz. Together they devise a narrative mosaic built on dynamic shifts in perspective. 

The action, which continually folds in on itself and then outward in ways that put an antic spin on meta, is set in the western Indian metropolis of Pune. Young writer Chetan (Saurabh Saraswat) arrives to audition for the student theater competition Purushottam and finds institutional memories of Vikram, an esteemed former participant whom he physically resembles, shadowing him at nearly every turn. 

Chetan encounters Vikram’s heartbroken former muse (Geetika Sapna Rakesh) and grows close to actress Persis (Mrinmayee Godbole), playing scenes with her whose artifice isn’t always clear. That blurring between performance and “reality” has terrific energy and tension as Kanadé and his co-writer, playwright Dharmakirti Sumant, put their characters through role-playing escapades and transgressions, some voluntary and others dictated by an imperious instructor, Mayank (Vinay Sharma). 

As Mayank wields them, acting exercises cross into the realm of psychological abuse. His bullying in the name of artistic purity recalls J.K. Simmons’ character in Whiplash, but he takes things a creepy step further by grabbing at female flesh to make his point. Pushed past their inhibitions, some students, led by Chetan, rebel against Mayank’s messianic authority, making art every step of their mutinous way. 

Amid continual, enthused chatter about European literature and cinema — Camus, Godard, Sartre and Bergman are among the name-checked masters — the movie abounds in visual and comic delights. Each exploratory tangent for Chetan & Co. (Abhay Mahajan and Isha Keskar play two of his fellow students) is an opportunity for both cheeky send-up and sincere embrace. Kanadé, Sumant and Katz concoct faux newsreels as well as parodies of medical dramas and reality TV. A couple of animated sequences offer line-drawing raunchiness, while at the other end of the spectrum there are real interactions: Pune playwrights field questions from a goofily costumed Chetan, who’s pretending to be a journalist nun in a BBC documentary. 

The method to Kanadé’s madness isn’t always apparent, but the various feints and stunts and dramas flow into one another with remarkable facility, a testament to Suchitra Sathe’s ace editing. And Garth Neustadter’s score takes a light, varied approach, meshing seamlessly with the inventive imagery. The film, whose title consists of a central character’s initials, is finally a celebration of artistic identity, and one that’s devoid of sentimentality or self-congratulation. Nearing the final phase of the competition, the story includes a dispiriting confrontation with a figure who insists that “art is not essential to life” — an argument that CRD counters with brio.

Production companies: Chaitra Arts, KanadéFilms, Kumbhakarna Pictures, Double Mortgage Productions, Holo Films
Cast: Mrinmayee Godbole, Vinay Sharma, Saurabh Saraswat, Isha Keskar, Abhay Mahajan, Geetika Sapna Rakesh
Director-production designer-costume designer: Kranti Kanadé
Screenwriters: Kranti Kanadé, Dharmakirti Sumant
Producers: Kranti Kanadé, Eesha Thaker
Executive producer: Ashwini Paranjape
Director of photography: Daniel Katz
Editor: Suchitra Sathe
Composer: Garth Neustadter
Casting: Dharmakirti Sumant

Not rated, 110 minutes