Cast: Yami Gautam, Pankaj Kapur, Rahul Khanna, Tushar Pandey, Pia Bajpiee
Director: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Rating: 2 stars (Out of 5)
The film opens with breaking news of a deadly bomb explosion somewhere in Bengal’s Purulia district. That is about the only bang that Lost, streaming on Zee5, delivers. For the rest of its runtime, the plodding two-hour journalistic procedural is a bit of a whimper.
That is not to say that Lost, directed by multiple National Award-winning director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (Anuranan, Antaheen, Pink), is devoid of redeeming qualities. It has moments that seem promising, but these are way too sporadic to help the film kick into top gear.
The cast includes the formidable Pankaj Kapur. He buoys things up with minimum visible effort when he is on the screen. Also in the film are three Bengali cinema stalwarts – Suman Mukhopadhyay, Arindam Sil and Kaushik Sen. Their combined might has only peripheral impact.
Lost seems close at times to formulating a political statement of some import on youth alienation. Three young people – an investigative journalist, a street theatre activist and a television news anchor – are at the heart of the film. But all things considered, the film lacks the fire to go the whole hog and call a spade a spade.
In aiming for the safe and the palatable, Lost loses its way and falls appreciably short of what it aspires to be – an acute and urgent enumeration of the obstacles that hinder a truth-seeker’s progress in a society that turns a blind eye to people who have been pushed to its margins.
Lensed and lit with his customary skill by cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay, Lost is definitely not wanting in finesse, technical or directorial. Sadly, gloss isn’t what the film needed as much as a stout, subversive heart. It should have crackled with energy and bristled with rage. It does neither. All that the film is left with is surface sheen.
Lost is undone irretrievably by its rather timorous, tentative take on politicians who habitually string the public along and on rebels who stand firm against the establishment on behalf of the dispossessed. The manner in which it draws an equivalence between the two poles borders on the speciously status quoist.
A news portal journalist, played by Yami Gautam Dhar (she never looks or acts like somebody who wouldn’t shy away from getting her hands and feet dirty in pursuit of a story), ferrets around with the aim of unravelling the reasons behind the sudden disappearance of a young Dalit theatre activist (Tushar Pandey) who performs on the streets of Kolkata. Neither her process nor the conclusion she arrives at rises above the uninspired.
The police, in a hurry to brand the missing man a Maoist, attempt a coverup. The scribe is confident that there is much more to the politically sensitive case than what the cops are willing to let on. The needle of suspicion point towards the missing person’s girlfriend (Pia Bajpiee).
The journalist begins her own sleuthing, aided and advised by her maternal grandfather, a retired professor who believes that no ideology that promotes violence is above reproach, and her supportive boss (Suman Mukhopadhyay).
The film is unable to fully cash in on Pankaj Kapur’s elevating presence. The screenplay by Shyamal Sengupta does not give him – or what he represents – enough by way of a cohesive, consistent character or ideational arc.
In one scene the straightforward professor insists that he sees value in staying away from politics. In another he instinctively and fearlessly stands up to a powerful politician when push comes to shove. Kapur is convincing in both situations but the film’s own vacillations are disorienting.
Yami Gautam Dhar, by whom the film lays much store, labours in the service of a lost cause. For one, the female lead barely manages to express the simmering anger of one thwarted and threatened at every step.
Moreover, the film does not delve into the depth of her desperation. The character and the performance do not possess the power required to take the film over the line and guide it into a zone of relative clarity.
The sketchily delineated figures and the contrived twists aren’t, however, the film’s biggest drawback. It fares much worse in terms of what it does with the themes that it addresses. The missing boy, having presumably faced discrimination because of his caste identity, employs his medium to articulate his people’s collective disgruntlement with development models that ride roughshod over disadvantaged and voiceless communities.
Lost also alludes to the gender dynamic that impacts the life of the missing man’s married sister. Her husband gives her no quarters and expects her to unquestioningly do his bidding. Not only is she is projected as an antithesis to the self-willed heroine, her brother, too, is nothing like her priggish husband.
The female protagonist lives and breathes at the other end of the spectrum. She has made a life and career for herself without the support of her construction tycoon-father. In fact, she is usually at loggerheads with her dad.
On the face of it, the noises that Lost makes seem in a broad sense to be perfectly in order. But flowing under the film’s surface is a disingenuous effort to paint the exploiter and the exploited, the perpetrator and the resister with the same brush.
Lost apportions blame equally to the cynical and corrupt politician (Rahul Khanna, in one of his rare film appearances, more suave than smarmy) who works the system for his own benefit and a rebel leader (Kaushik Sen) who fights for an inclusive, equitable society where the land and civil rights of the poor aren’t trampled upon by the powerful and the wealthy.
Lost would have us believe that the youth of this country are as likely to be manipulated by rebels as by those that have the entire system at their mercy. Also, it cites statistics about the high number of people who go missing in this country every day and links it the more specific issue of the victimisation of political activists. That is a massive stretch.
Lost in a maze of conflicting signals, Lost is a dispiritingly dithering shot at understanding the battle that rages between the essential and the expedient in a land of many intractable faultlines.
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