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MAMI DAY 3: While Personal Shopper leaves you with questions, Salesman takes you on a journey

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 25 October 2016, 17:08 IST

The plan was to partake of delicious Parsi food - dhansak, lagan nu custard and raspberry soda -- at Jimmy Boy, Fort, before proceeding to the nearby Regal cinema for MAMI. But the best laid plans of men and mice ... the cabbie took ages to reach from Powai to Regal cinema, so we made a quick meal of palak paneer and tandoori rotis at an Udipi joint across the cinema hall, washed it down with fresh lime soda, and rushed to the theatre. Somehow, film festivals have become associated with hectic activity in my mindscape.

The Personal Shopper

The audience sat up straight when the film (starring Kristen Stewart, the star of the blockbuster Twilight Saga series of films) ended abruptly ... immediately after positing a shocking psychological conundrum. Several people emerging from the theatre asked aloud, "Did you understand the last scene?" I can't say the film neatly tied up all the knots at the end, but I do feel that the questions it posed are tremendous.

When the text message comes from an unknown source, even an innocuous Diwali greeting leaves me flummoxed and curious to know the identity of the caller. So for me, the horror elements in The Personal Shopper lay in the elongated sequence which focuses on an exchange of texts between Kristen and a stalking spirit (while she travels by train between Paris and London) rather than images of wispy ectoplasm dropping glasses to draw attention.

The texts seem to affect Stewart's character Maureen. A part-time medium and a full-time personal shopper to a star, she is in Paris waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother Lewis, in honour of the pact they had shared. Egged on by the spirit to unveil her true self, Maureen becomes reckless and secretly tries on the haute couture outfits and shoes of her starry client, Kyra. But, as she reveals, "there is no desire if it's not forbidden." Intriguing.

Kristen's life threatens to spiral out of control when she questions if the spirit is really her brother. Kyra is gruesomely murdered, evidence lands up at Maureen's flat and what is the mystery in the hotel room where the sensors on automatic glass doors open up to let an invisible presence pass by? Maureen realises she cannot escape the presence even when she flees to faraway Oman ... There the film teases you with that most tantalising of questions ... just what is it that Maureen is escaping from?

The film is a one-woman show for the most and Kristen Stewart carries the complex role with as much elan as the strappy dresses and designer stilettos.


A pill and a sugary cup of tea later, I was fortified for the next film on the menu, The Salesman, a perceptive character sketch of its married protagonists -- Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a schoolteacher-cum-stage actor and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a stage actress.

The film opens with the happily married couple hurriedly rushing out of their apartment building when it is on the verge of collapse but little do they know that soon they will have to stop their marriage from collapsing too. After they move into a new house, the former tenant (described delicately as a woman of many male companions; or simply put, a prostitute) becomes the cause of a serious incident in their lives. Rana is alone and in the shower -- she has left the main house door open for her husband - when a former client of the earlier tenant enters the home. Rana's head needs stitches after being banged against the bathroom mirror.

Rana reacts to this episode by reticently refusing to talk about it in detail but she cannot come to terms with it -- she doesn't bathe because the shower haunts her,

Se wants Emad to skip school and be by her side in the day, she forgets her lines midway through the play they are performing - The Death Of A Salesman. All this gradually chips away at the supportive Emad's inherent love, gallantry, and patience.

Rana's emotional withdrawal is counterpointed by Emad's frustration. He tracks down the man; and from here onwards, the tension implodes. Emad and Rana find themselves on opposing sides. Emad, who likes to be in charge, is pitted against the compassionate Rana who wants to forgive the old perpetrator because he was "tempted."

The climax of the film and it's dilemma about guilt, forgiveness, and punishment triggered memories of Roman Polanski's Death And The Maiden (1994) while the idea of a couple renting a house that was once leased to a prostitute was reminiscent of Rajinder Singh Bedi's Dastak (1970). But Salesman emerges as its own film pushing the limits of its story into new suspenseful and psychological dimensions.

Shahab Hosseini is extremely effective in encapsulating male anger and conflicting shades of emotion while Taraneh Alidoosti relies on eloquent silences and expressive eyes to convey the inner turmoil of a woman who doesn't want to relive her trauma but can't put it in the past too.

-- Dinesh Raheja (Editor - Bollywood News Service)

First published: 25 October 2016, 17:08 IST