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The Great Indian Butterfly

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English, Drama, 2010, Color





Krish (Aamir Bashir) and Meera (Sandhya Mridul), are a young Indian couple climbing the ladder of the corporate rate race in a nation hurtling forward at a rate unprecedented in its long history. Stressed, frustrated and unable to come to terms with the sacrifice required for success, they go in search of a legendary magical insect - The Great Indian Butterfly. Last seen by the unknown Portuguese explorer Carodiguez, in a remote valley located in erstwhile colonial Goa, the butterfly possesses a magical aura, granting immense happiness to the person who catches it. In the journey that takes the couple from the smog filled, concrete jungle of the Megalopolis of Mumbai through the little discovered coastal landscapes of the western Sahyadris, to the sun soaked land of Goa, the couple lose more than what they want to rediscover...


- Sarthak DasGupta, Director

When I started to write the' ...Butterfly...', there was no butterfly in it. I was going to call it The Burnout. The idea dealt with the urban ambition epidemic and its sad outcomes. I realized I was only willing to observe and document just one side of the issue. A friend pointed out to me this legend of the butterfly and I immediately found the ground on the other side of the issue that I needed to explore. This search for the butterfly brought in the attempt to go beyond the problem into the realms of its possible solutions.

All around us we hear stories of India being a big emerging market and even growing up to be a powerful nation. We have made a difference in the world through the power of our ideas. The film tries to capture that unique Indian spirit. It's not esoteric and complex. It's a simple story of discovery in present day India.

There was a reason to base the film in Goa. The Goa state of mind is simply unbelievable. Thousands of people land up in this state searching for a place to getaway. I've known of several who have come back with a sense of peace and a promise. Goa is not merely a tourist destination; it's a pilgrimage to the modern Indian. The attraction is not merely the typical beach and shack joints. It's the unique combination of a people who live life in their own terms. Live like they want rather than live like they should. Our attempt was to show Goa not as a fun place, but as a place where catalysis' happen. Besides, Goa is also the place, where according to the 'legend', we have the Carodiguez valley where you find the butterfly.

Aamir Bashir and Sandhya Mridul, who play the leads, were fantastic. Since the film is primarily targeted at an educated, intelligent global audience we had an exhaustive casting procedure to identify these two hugely talented actors with a refreshing and original style of acting. We needed people to be real up there in the screen. This story is not new age in the perspective that it's understood nowadays. Typically, new age means getting a new hairdo, designer clothes and funny accents. Our intention was to let the characters speak for themselves. Aamir played it down. Sandhya played it up. Both are believable and lovable. I couldn't have had any better actors for the characters.

Barry John and Koel Purie spruced up the casting most beautifully. Barry has been an acting teacher for decades having trained some Indian superstars like SRK and Meera Nair. I was apprehensive to approach him to do the role of the old man. He read the script and agreed in 24 hours. On hindsight, I can't think of any other person who could have done the character with so much understanding. Koel came in much later. Koel's character only had references in the original script. But later we felt it was necessary to understand that character more than what was explained. She walked into the project as if she's been always in it. Shooting with her was a breeze. Extremely intelligent and perceptive, Koel very quickly made me forget that she was not written in the original draft at all!

We had a small crew and we were constantly moving. It was a massive logistic exercise to be on track. The whole process of shooting was a humongous task to be managed by a relatively small crew and in a small budget. We would move on leaving a place to a new destination, not knowing what to expect there. Cars from the caravan would take a wrong turn, get lost, with no signal in the cell-phones at remote locations in Goa, and then again land up at the right place in the right time. The film in itself had a huge will power to get made.

Parth Arora, as an Executive Producer, is a Director's delight. Also, him being a buddy, helped. We had toyed with the script for a long time before we had finally got the requisite money to go ahead and shoot. So for both of us, each passing day gave us many corresponding days in the past to look back at when we had tried to live the shoot many times over, on paper.

We shot right from outside the precincts of Bombay, to all the way to Goa and in Goa. We only had some landmarks as vague references to the locations where we would stop and shoot. So Parth, Shanker (my DOP) and I would have three different ideas of how the scene is going to be framed or how will it look. And what we finally got was how the film wanted to look itself.

We shot hand-held most of the places. The fact that we wanted the frame to breathe like a human being and the fact that there was never enough time to lay a track (for example), lent to each other well.

Shanker would brace the heavy 35mm camera up on his chest with bare hands and no other harness and just go on shooting. It was his idea to have frames that look obscure and subtly disturbing to lend to the angst the characters are feeling on screen. Hence you will often find faces that are not 'beautifully' framed in the traditional sense of the term.

The trauma of chasing the lucre and retaining your sanity is quite a difficult thing to handle. But treading the same path with love in the heart and a dispassionate indifference to the sense of success probably makes the journey enjoyable as well.




The effort at the script level is to be appreciated. A slice of life story, a modern yuppie couple and their problems, abounding metaphors, and a non-linear structure. But here lie the problems too - one cliche too many, inconsistent writing and overall, a lot of meandering. Screenplays as such attempted need to be sharp; acerbic even. The Great Indian Butterfly is too well-padded. It slips abruptly from a comment to something like a whodunit. The audience is ultimately cheated, and while it helps make the film pacier in the second half, it takes away from the core.

The warring couple protagonists search in futile for the mythical Great Indian Butterfly in Goa but it primarily serves as a metaphor of their messy lives: an aborted baby, an unsteady marriage rocked by insinuations of adultery, and office politics. As the characters, inter-cut with flashbacks, hurl into a inescapable vortex, you're expecting the worse. Until there is light at the end of a tunnel. And it's in a text message.

The story's smart moments (the little twist in the tale, the unapologetic characterizations, the natural flow of events) are undone by some convenient and weak writing (missed a train by 5 minutes? Never mind, let's stay another 2 days; Mridul's arbitrary accident that lands her in hospital) and the end result is one laced with inconsistency.

The film falters in the technical departments. Apart from some rock steady handheld camera work and its unconventional framing (Bollywood standards apply here), there is little less gluing the film together. All the driving involved makes for a lot of repetition. Art direction is essentially non-existent and feeding off low-budget location shooting. Costumes and make-up falter too - indie filmmakers need to realize that the 'natural look' needs as much work, albeit a different kind, as does the glam look. And sound design is just plain amateur. Poor dubbing, forced foley and non-sync effects bring the film down a full 10 points.

The actors are a bit in auto-pilot mode. Aamir Bashir's conflicting emotional lines don't translate entirely into expressions all the time, but he's still the best performer in the film. Surprisingly Sandhya Mridul's English is much too school-elocution-contest like and her otherwise spunky performance is hampered by this. Koel Purie is at her flattest best, and Barry John can't quite make up his mind whether to look into the camera or not. Bit parts are essayed by (probably) the director's family and friends and they really put the brakes on otherwise well-flowing scenes. The exception would be the two local Goan villagers who start bickering with each other when asked for directions. But then, they're probably real people (and in real non-make up too.)

It's not a bad film really. It's sad that it's taken 4 years to release after completion and even when it has you'll have to travel to the ends of the city at inappropriate hours to catch a show. But such is the state of independent cinema. And we have a long way to go - as an audience and also as makers.


Upperstall review by: filmbear





 

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