Vihir -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Though dozens are made every year, it's not very often that song and dance-free Indian films get any kind of attention outside of India. "Vihir" probably doesn't stand much of a chance of changing that trend. Though Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni's well-produced drama is an incisive (if slow) examination of the way children handle death, interest in the film could be limited to large urban markets and broad-spectrum film festivals. There isn't much "Slumdog Millionaire" potential here.

Pune-based Sameer (Madan Deodhar) and his cousin Nachiket (Alok Rajwade) are best of friends despite their nominal age difference. Sameer is a college-bound student while Nachiket is slightly less ambitious, still unsure as to where he wants to go in his life. The two boys finally meet up after corresponding through letters (actual pen and paper letters) for a relative's wedding in the country. Their easy camaraderie is punctuated by swims in the local well (the title's literal translation). It's clear from the get go that Nachiket is suffering some kind of existential crisis, but no one -- not even Sameer -- seems to notice. The boys fall out after a squabble over Nachiket's hesitation to move to Pune for school (which Sameer takes personally) and they separate on a down note. Deciding to make amends, Sameer heads back to the town to find that Nachiket has drowned.

The remainder of "Vihir" deals with Sameer's quest for meaning and understanding. Nachiket's death is a bit of a mystery -- was it an accident or suicide? -- but that isn't on Kulkarni's radar. Working from a script by Girish Kulkarni and Sati Bhave, the story is in Sameer's reconciliation of what he knows and what he thought he knew. Deodhar is effective as a young teen convinced he's alone in his mourning and his behavior following the news always feels right. Sameer's final act visit to his grandfather's home sees "Vihir" going to the proverbial well a few too many times; the film could have easily ended twice before it finally does. But the subtleties and quiet introspection otherwise overshadow that minor indulgence.

Sudheer Palsane's lush and emollient cinematography is "Vihir's" greatest strength; the DOP avoids flash and dash in favor of steady, traditional shooting that captures the essence of place and allows the family dynamic to reveal itself within the unfettered frames. Those details are nicely rendered in naturalistic and believable performances from the supporting cast, and go a long way to creating a context for Sameer's sorrow.

Venue: Pusan International Film Festival -- New Currents

Production company: AB Corp. Ltd.
Cast: Madan Deodhar, Alok Rajwade, Jtoyi Subhash, Mohan Agashe
Director: Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni
Screenwriter: Girish Kulkarni, Sati Bhave
Executive producer: Girish Pandurang Kulkarni
Producer: Ramesh Pulapaka
Director of Photography: Sudheer Palsane
Production Designer: Anita Donald, Sachin Ravin
Music: Mangesh Dhakde
Editor: Niraj Voralia
No rating, 117 minutes