Please watch this short-film The Bypass (2003) before you read further, this post would be more relevant and enjoyable that way – there are spoilers ahead. If possible, watch it on bigger screen – only gripe is that the film is not available in HD or FHD quality.
Caution: This is a disturbing, violent short-film – viewer discretion is advised.
Irrfan Khan passed away today (29 April 2020) and this impromptu piece about his older short-film is my homage to this versatile actor. Though he made his debut in 1988 with Salaam Bombay, he had to struggle for several years before he got the recognition that he deserved in Indian and International cinema.
The Bypass (silent/2003 ~ 16 mins) is one of the older works of Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui – they both take this film to a different level with their earnest performances. It is such a treat to watch brilliance of both these legendary actors long before either of them made it big in the mainstream Hindi cinema.
The Bypass narrates a short story of some desert in remote Rajasthan, far away from civilization, and story of its dwellers – some bandits (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sundar Dan Detha et al.), a cop (Irrfan Khan), and scavenger birds living off the dead. Though violent and disturbing, this film certainly would leave an impact – a kind of film that you won’t forget easily, ever. It has won several prestigious awards, including a BAFTA for best short film.
The director Amit Kumar from FTII has also written the screenplay of this short-film. I haven’t seen any of his other work, so cannot comment on his style or patterns evolving from his work. His only feature-film as a director so far is Monsoon Shootout (2013) with Anurag Kashyap, which is a psycho-thriller starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui again. He seems to be intrigued by the conflicts of human values and extremely violent crimes. Anyway. I’ll only talk about his work in this short-film, which is undoubtedly impressive. There are tons of glimpses of his directorial brilliance as well, wish we could see more of his work in the future.
The film starts off with a close shot of a scavenger bird feeding on some carrion, shortly followed by a speeding, rose-decorated, white car with a happy, newlywed couple. The car accidentally swerves towards a strange bypass in the middle of that desolate desert. They continue their journey, unaware of the danger that awaits them.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a bandit who robs the unsuspecting travelers along with Sundar Dan Detha – his greedy, loony aide who is unable to speak – although, he is the only one who makes sounds in this otherwise silent film. They are both waiting somewhere on that bypass, hiding in the sand dunes to rob the next passing vehicle. As expected, they do attack the car and rob the couple, pocket the cash, and just when Nawazuddin is about to grab the expensive watch from the groom’s wrist, Sundar alerts him about the approaching motorbike of the police officer Irrfan Khan, and the duo run away to hide. The cop, Irrfan inspects the incident site of the robbery, and when he is leaving on his motorbike, the groom’s watch has changed hands – the cop is wearing it; while we are still coming to terms with the shock of that ghastly crime.
Director Amit Kumar has used smash cut (where one scene abruptly cuts to another scene for the desired narrative effect) frequently in this film and it works exceedingly well along with the sound as this film’s editing signature (it also hints where the next action is going to take place). Every time just before the smash cut, you’re almost holding your breath and then that shocking smash cut arrives with a loud, anticipated sound; although it is in a different context – and then you gasp for breath. For the students of film-making and editing, this is sort of a masterclass demonstrating how to use this technique to enhance your narrative – sheer brilliance! There are no dialogues in this film, but meticulously crafted sound & music more than make up for their absence (and transcending language barriers as well). The editor of this film is Andy Shelley and the music is by Oscar wining Dario Marianelli. It has been shot at real locations in desert and cinematographer Rajeev Ravi‘s camera has captured essence of that savage, barren desert as the apt canvas for this story. This is essentially a festival film with top-line producers and crew, so the results are equally exceptional.
After running away, Nawazuddin and Sundar walk to the nearby eatery unaware of Irrfan’s presence there, who is forcing himself on a captive woman inside a room nearby. As they are having their meals, Nawazuddin hears a scream and shortly the cop emerges from that room – one has to see Irrfan’s body-language to believe how convincingly he portrays corrupt and rotten to the core cop in this scene. Nawazuddin matches Irrfan’s acting prowess quite well, in fact he has got a meatier role in this film.
Before the duo could leave, the unavoidable clash between these bandits and the cop takes place, resulting in few more gruesome killings. The bandits notice the scared, captive woman, Nawazuddin lustfully tries to fondle her, but as he senses her resistance, with a little nod of his head he lets her go. Again, one must watch how effortlessly he displays wide range of emotions in this scene subtly without a single dialogue. The groom’s watch lying in the blood changes hands again. The bandits return to the sands looking for their next victims in the scorching sun, Nawazuddin’s hand now adorns the watch he had set his eyes on earlier.
With another twist and another smash cut, the film comes to an end. Karma plays on, the jinxed watch changes hands yet again. The significance of the opening frame unfolds – the creatures living off the dead truly embody ghost of the desert.
Note: Form this edition of InShort , I am switching over to English, not only because of my inherent comfort with English, but also because I can type much faster in English. On the other hand, typing in Marathi is much slower for me.
The reason I started off this series in Marathi because it was supposed to be printed in a magazine, but it didn’t happen. If you’re interested and can understand Marathi, you can read the series here: InShort (Short Films).