NEW YORK INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2013 - Shunyo Awnko (Act Zero), Bengal, Goutam Ghose, (2012)

Written by Belle McIntyre This is a twisty thriller with two story lines intersecting like a double helix of DNA strands. The title Act Zero refers to a somewhat annoying device of breaking the film into ten acts - ending with zero. As with so many non-Bollywood films there is a background of lethal political conflict. That the specifics are unstated in this Bengali film is informative by the implication that it could be anywhere in any part of India.

The protagonist of one thread is an intrepid and fearless journalist named Raka (Konkona Sensharma), a sort of Christiane Amanpour, who is always on the frontlines of whatever location is the hot story of the moment. She takes her job very seriously because it was hard won by doing a stint as a Page 3 journalist for the last three years and she is driven to really understand the issues which are so troubling and complex in her country.

While covering a story about the standoff between a huge corporation with big plans which will displace a population of tribal people and destroy their sacred sites, she meets Agni Bose, the representative from the company. He is an ambitious man, and an arriviste and is newly married to a fairly materialistic wife who has grown accustomed to a certain amount of the trappings of success. But, unfortunately for his inner peace, he is not the hardened Gordon Gekko, which would make him conscience free. Raka’s dedication to her ideals and her commitment to telling inconvenient truths awakens his better instincts. They develop a bond which continues over time as she covers stories in many varied and beautifully filmed locations. It is strictly a cellphone relationship.

But it sows the seeds of discontent in Agni about the morality of his work. And it is a source of jealousy and suspicion for his bored, under appreciated wife, Jhilik, with whom he has grown increasingly distant. Jhilik is also becoming volatile and erratic as she struggles to be taken seriously by her distracted husband.

The two story lines occurring simultaneously involve convoluted sequences of events, encounters with a number of fascinating, charismatic characters which take place in more beautiful locations as Raka and Agni proceed on their respective paths to self- realization connected only by phone. There is much about the structure and trajectory which is opaque and difficult to follow. However, I suppose that each story needs the other to give it context and relevance. In the end, when they finally see each other again the seriousness of purpose and strong message are made clear. And all of the annoying details are forgiven.

Image Courtesy of  The Act Zero Film

Tom Chambers, The Digital Engineer

Ellen von Unwerth at Staley Wise Gallery