'The Violin Player': Mumbai Review

The Violin Player Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Little Lamb Films

The Violin Player Still - H 2015

Starts as a weak adagio but concludes in a thrilling vibrato.

The fateful encounter between a failed violinist and a mysterious filmmaker is the subject of this Indian feature.

A short feature that shows how art can change our lives, The Violin Player struggles to warm up, but once it finally takes off, the last half hour is entertaining all the way to its unexpectedly profound punchline. The upside to writer-director Bauddhayan Mukherji’s second film lies in its originality in mixing humor and pathos, without losing sight of the bigger picture about what it means to be an artist. Featuring top Bengali stars Ritwick Chakraborty as a failed violinist and Adil Hussain as his mysterious employer, the film should find indie-friendly audiences on its home turf, while festivals will want to check out the modernity of this quirky tale.

The  film’s first half starts off like a pointless shaggy dog story. Like Mukherji’s 3-episode debut feature Three Obsessions, the screenplay seems to be conceived more as a short story than a feature-length film. Here it’s stretched to the limit of patience, like the opening shot of a man reading a newspaper for an extended length of time while he answers his wife in monosyllables. What’s missing is a subplot to flesh out these offbeat but intriguing characters and make room for some ruthless pruning.

Unkempt and unemployed, the man (Chakraborty) hangs around the house while his wife (Nayani Dixit) bustles off to work. He’s left to do the dishes, wash the clothes and kill the cockroaches in their rented hovel on the outskirts of Mumbai.

On this particular day, he does have a small gig. Suddenly we find him in a crowded recording studio, an anonymous violinist in the fourth row. Chakraborty’s mobile face, frequently framed in close up, conveys his frustration and dashed hopes as skillfully as a mime, without the need for dialogue.

On his way home, the unexpected happens. At the train station, on the other side of the tracks, a distinguished looking man in glasses (a coolly aloof Adil Hussain) keeps staring at him and his violin case. Surprised and embarrassed, the violinist can’t avoid his steely gaze. This goes on for quite a while, far longer than necessary in fact, until finally the man comes over and makes a proposal he can’t refuse. The stranger claims that only live music will do, and the pay is suspiciously good.

From this point on, the story becomes riveting, if no less mysterious. The violinist follows the stranger through the back alleys of the city and up the stairs of a sprawling, completely deserted building shot like a haunted house. Mukherji recounts what follows next with sure-footed artistry, while his hero plays up an emotional storm composed by Bhaskar Dutta and Arnab Chakraborty.

Though it was shot on a shoestring, clearly a lot of thought has gone into making the film, and production values are high throughout. Avik Mukhopadhyay’s lighting is a pleasure to watch.

Production company:  Little Lamb Films

Cast: Ritwick Chakraborty, Adil Hussain, Nayani Dixit, Sonam Stobgais

Director, screenwriter: Bauddhayan Mukherji

Producer: Monalisa Mukherji

Executive producer:  Kedhhar Barrve

Director of photography: Avik Mukhopadhyay

Production, costume designer: Monalisa Mukherji

Editor: Arghyakamal Mitra

Music: Bhaskar Dutta, Arnab Chakraborty

World sales: Little Lamb Films  

No rating, 72 minutes