Very few films concern themselves with questions. Most of them are too eager to provide inspiration or make statements. But in Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi, curiosity is what drives its premise and suspension of disbelief is entirely abandoned.
Far removed from the business of make-believe and rose-tinted imagery, Kapoor’s film is a fascinating and fleshed-out experiment conducted through an episodic account of Bauji’s (Sanjay Mishra) whimsical, inquiring idiosyncrasies founded on ‘seeing is believing.’
Even though it’s set in an authentic neighbourhood of Old Delhi — one we never see in the movies, one I’ve never ventured into even after all these years of passing through the fringes – Ankhon Dekhi brought back memories of R K Narayan’s Malgudi. The quirk, the simplicity, the realism, the humaneness bore likeness to the beloved fictional town of literary realm.
Backdrop (production design by Meenal Agarwal) here works in significant capacity; it’s not just a means to visually communicate the milieu Ankhon Dekhi is centred around, but its crammed interiors, neglected walls, lived-in spaces, comfortable corners stroke the scenes with personality, texture and, most importantly, life.
What I connected to most is, how Bauji’s journey of inner realisations, isn’t defined by a singular goal. In fact, it’s never clear at all. Like the time he reminds his unsought huddle of followers in an exasperated tone how he’s still figuring out the course of his individual path to guide them any better.
Wild impulses not wisdom influence his actions. People like Bauji, especially when spotted with philosophy-spewing placards on the street, are easy to ridicule, grab attention or Instagram about. Kapoor treats them with value and provides a comprehensive context through his sprawling household filled up by a boisterous wife (Seema Pahwa), kids, younger brother (Rajat Kapoor) and his family.
It’s not some grand epiphany that changes the course of his mundane existence but an ordinary incident where he discovers his prejudice was unwarranted and the reality of his presumption is rather agreeable.
Weighed down by domestic responsibilities, the sensitive, soft-spoken Bauji is yet to hit the stage where he’s ready to relax or explore the circle of life. Yet in that one reckless moment he decides to relate truth on the basis of experience come what may. What follows from such obstinacy is alternately anti-establishment, silly, sad, triumphant, witty and disconcerting.
For all its existentialism crisis, Ankhon Dekhi’s heart lies in Kapoor’s affectionate depiction of humdrum living, the tender father-daughter relationship between Bauji and Rita (Maya Sarao), the unspoken attachment between him and his estranged brother and the concerned anxiety of his rock solid wife.
There are times when the narrative fumbles to accommodate another eccentric interruption or skip a few chapters unexplained to hastily progress. But Kapoor’s absorbing creation about an affable nonconformist and the repercussions of his behaviour on his family/fans conceal these faults. This is aided by a spontaneous show of uncomplicated humour and Sagar Desai’s mellifluous score penned in Varun Grover’s vivid ink.
Every single protagonist — Pahwa, Kapoor, Sarao, Brijendra Kala, Panditji’s son, Maths teacher, owner of a gambling den among a horde of others — leaves a lasting impression in Bauji’s surreal slice of life even if Ankhon Dekhi is never really about them. And yet, by the end of it, I believe I know these characters close enough to reckon where they come from, what could be their story.
Needless to say, Ankhon Dekhi’s real star is the man radiating perceptive restraint behind those big, searching, envisaging eyes. Sanjay Mishra portrays a well-meaning fool like a visionary, a scientist, an enigma. Maybe he’s just an escapist, a mad man, a deception but I’ll go with what my eyes saw — brilliance. Haunting brilliance.
Discerning viewer, witness it you must.
This review was first published on rediff.com