We see her speaking to someone. But there is no reply from the other side. She responds but who is she addressing? It’s obvious to us that she can see and listen to whoever is in the room with her. The question is: Is she the only person in the room or is there someone else?
Kolkata-based filmmaker Abhiroop Basu, whose last short film Afternoon with Julia had the privilege of being screened as part of the Cannes Short Film Corner, has once again surprised me with The Paperman, a film that differs considerably – both in mood and tone – from the previous one.
Basu never makes the same film twice. He is never repetitive. It’s as if every single film he has made so far has the style and soul of a different filmmaker. While The Paperman has no visible similarities to his previous film, what’s common in both is the way he plays with perception.
The Paperman deals with the aftermath of someone’s demise and the deteriorating effect it has on the mental state of its lead character Priyanka, convincingly played by Daminee Basu. She is trying hard to grapple with the loss of her father, with whom she did not have much of a bond, and has resultantly become irritable.
It’s evident from her conversations with another woman in the room, played by Mishka Halim, that there were some major communication problems between her and her father. The only prominent memory she has of him is that of a man who, most of the time, has his face buried in a newspaper and speaking in a slightly incoherent manner.
The impact of his disappearance on her mental state is relatively more potent than that of someone who shared a deeper bond with their parent. Perhaps this has something to do with what he told her on the day before his passing. The conversations evoke the films of Satyajit Ray and the somber tone is pure Ingmar Bergman.
Basu has paid more attention to mise-en-scene this time with overhead lamps, photo frames and other objects placed strategically to enhance the composition of each frame – at times the walls frame the actors; cigarette smoke rises up and fills the air (Wong Kar-Wai style) and in one scene strobe lights are used to good effect.
Basu has been fortunate enough to get invited to Cannes for the second time. That’s right. The Paperman has been selected for screening at this year’s Cannes Short Film Corner.