Difficult People

By Sohil Vaidya | Drama
A father and son must learn to deal with each other after their mother's death.

Akash, a young graffiti artist in Mumbai, has artistic aspirations and a yearning to devote himself to the creative life. But his more traditional, stubborn father Sudhakar is opposed to the idea. And to complicate matters, the two men are still grappling with the recent death of the boy’s mother, widening the gulf between them and heightening their grief.

Sudhakar sees his son as simply a rebellious teenager and doubts his son’s maturity and commitment, while Akash chafes against this interpretation, instead of seeing himself as an artist who wants to be free. Tensions soon reach a breaking point, threatening to pull an already struggling family further apart.

Writer-director Sohil Vaidya’s beautifully affecting dramatic short is both a keenly observant, touching portrait of an evolving relationship between father and son, as the young son embraces the identity emerging within him and begins asserting his independence. It’s also an engrossing, compact snapshot of India, where vibrant, energetic modernity rubs up against traditional ideas and mores and the constraints and requirements of the middle-class clash with an artist’s yearning to explore the world.

These themes can be a lot for a short narrative to handle, but Vaidya’s film balances them with a deceptively easy, light touch, helped along by a thoughtful yet sensuous approach to craftsmanship and a patient, sensitive storytelling voice.

While the visuals are never “show-offy” or flamboyant, they are nevertheless textured, richly colored and simply beautiful to look at. The settings are especially evocative, from the warm yet time-worn furnishings of the family home to the gleaming surfaces of Akash’s school. The cinematography and camera movement manage the trick of managing contrasts, being humble yet lush, and dynamic yet serene — very apt for a film about clashing contrasts and ideas.

The narrative also takes its time to build the world and character of the father and son, and the performances of actors Abhay Mahajan and Chittaranjan Giri as son and father, respectively, showcase both the tensions and unspoken feelings of the pair, as well as their long, fraught yet loving history together.

When tensions inevitably come to a head, what bubbles to the surface is not just the conflict at hand, but the submerged grief and loss they’re both dealing with — a sadness that offers both stubborn, opinionated men some common ground to forge a new understanding.

“Difficult People” is a unique and soulful film, whose singular nature emerges gently but confidently as the story unfurls and builds to a subtle and moving ending. The short has a matter-of-fact, even offhand cultural specificity that captures an authentic sense of Mumbai, but at its heart, the arc concerns itself with an emotionally relatable, even universal, story about family, love, identity and independence. As the story of Akash and Sudhakar shows, the bonds of family and love can complicate the process of finding and asserting self. But the struggle to integrate both belonging and independence — and the resulting understanding emerging from the effort — is worth it.

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