Film: "Sona Spa"; Actors: Naseeruddin Shah, Nivedita Bhattacharya, Ahana Kumrah, Shruti Vyas; Writer-director: Makarand Despande; Rating: ***
These women sleep for you. Not with you. These are not street walkers. They are sleep workers, who sleep for you when you are busy.
Welcome to Makarand Despande's amazing world of what-if possibilities. The hypnotic hypothesis of Makarand's play renders itself into a quirky, sometimes exasperating, sometimes invigorating peep into the troubled psyche of sleepless souls. The film exudes a kind of tongue-in-cheek wisdom that's poised precociously between existential home-truths and plain nuttiness.
Only Makarand Deshpande could stride these two incompatible worlds of the outlandish and the tragic with such a clear disdain for cinematic conventions.
Snatching sleep and stealing dreams in a sleep-spa run by an unbelievably benign non-avaricious entrepreneur (Pooja Pradhan), is what Makarand's intriguing, enigmatic, brutal and tender play-on-celluloid is all about. The narrative penetrates the guilty secrets of its character's subconscious and brings them to the surface through visuals that manage to stay afloat in spite of their intrinsically ambivalent comportment.
Who can pin down dreams? Sigmund Freud tried. But he saw sex to be omnipresent in the subconscious. Makarand's motion picture moves beyond the body and the mind to explore the soul which surrenders itself to sleep in search of a salvation denied to human beings in their waking hours.
There are passages of exasperating self-indulgence in the narrative. These are dwarfed by the conviction with which the characters manifest their dreams on screen, using the frames, not only to bleed their own reality but also to blend their reality into the wider truth of the human existence.
We all suffer. Only the methods applied to countermand our sufferings are different. At once, outrageous and hypnotic Sona Spa invokes a semi-dream trance-like world of characters trapped in state of frozen emotional inertia. Makarand's actors are predominantly from the stage. They bring to this brave celluloid rendering a strong sense of theatrical propriety and a mysteriously undefined feeling of cinematic sincerity.
Finally this film of complicated relationships between waking and dreaming, living and dying, speaking and thinking, seeking and forsaking is a story of a friendship between two girls from different economic classes, one rich and drunk played by Shruti Vyas, the other middleclass and beleaguered by bourgeous problems, played by Ahana Kumrah. Both the actresses lift the theme's inherent improbability to the level of credibility.
Naseeruddin Shah's cameo turn as a suave-talking god-man is restricted to a television plug for the spa.
Then there is the redoubtable Nivedita Bhattacharya as a prostitute turned 'sleep worker' who tells it like it is. Nivedita's saucy digs at suburban duplicity and a misguided moral righteouness knock the lid off the film's spasmodic content, clearly exposing the hurt that lies under the calm surface of lives lived on the edge of an imminent calamity.
Chaos seems forever to be knocking on this quirky film's door. Makarand Deshpande keeps us involved in the dreams of his characters. There are many in-house jokes about sleep disorder including one about people in Seattle being sleepless.
When Tom Hanks decided to be in "Sleepless In Seattle", he never dreamt that one day he would be referred to in a film about a liberating dreamscape inhabited by windswept nomads running around in search of salvation .
The cinematography (Rajeev Jain) and the background score (Shailendra Barve) go a long way in creating that state between sleep and waking when we are not too sure of the reality outside the door. The editing, though, could have been less uneven and patchy and more sure of where and when the characters should stop speaking.
Not all of the episodes hold together. But the piecemeal virtues go well with the nirvanic quest of these fragmented lives. "Sona Spa" is a stirring wake-up call in the middle of a troubled tortured sleep. The performances by largely unknown theatre actors adds a compelling edge to the drama of transferred dreams.
The film ends with a devastating lie about a truth to one of the female protagonist's about her friend's past. Here, the film tells us what the characters struggle to articulate all through the film.
It's okay to live a lie if reality is too disappointing to be borne. Like it or hate it, you can't be indifferent to Makarand Deshpande's vision of a sleep-starved world, populated by people with guilty secrets and dark desires.