They don’t call Mumbai the city of dreams for no reason. It is where dreamers become achievers, aspirations blossom into careers, and hopes become a reality. But how much can we dream? Will our dreams just dissipate into the air like it has happened to millions before us or will we be the one in a million who are able to realize their dreams and enter the realm of greatness? Does our socioeconomic position define or limit our dreams? Is a dream too big? Do familial responsibilities stand in the way of our dreams?
These are all heavy-handed questions but indie director-producer Achal Mishra beautifully captures the sense of these questions in her sophomore film Dhuin (2022). She synthesizes all these questions into a compact minimalist 50-minute runtime film currently streaming on MUBI India. The word Dhuin means ‘mist’ or ‘fog’ in the Maithili language. Fogs, aspirations, and cold mornings envelop the misty frames of this film, and the title aptly justifies itself.
The film is about a struggling theatre practitioner from the small, sleepy town of Darbhanga. Pankaj is 25 years old and dreams of making it big in Mumbai. The thought of the distance between Mumbai and Darbhanga never crosses his mind or stops him from dreaming big. But like most dreamers from modest socio-economic backgrounds, he lacks the means to realize his dreams. Pankaj does street play in his hometown and hangs out with fellow local actors and theatre practitioners but his mind is hell-bent on boarding a train to Indian cinema’s land of dreams, Mumbai.
Pankaj is bogged down by his family’s financial problems and his old ailing parents. A train to Mumbai is not just his ticket to realizing his passion but also represents freedom from the tacit realities of everyday life. Through Pankaj, we see that Mumbai is not what he expects it to be and how his bubble bursts when he encounters characters from the urban cine world. He is observant of their cultural elitism, gate-keeping, and name-dropping. In one particular scene, we see some directors discussing creating a docu-fiction film while alluding to Iranian director, Abbas Kiarostami’s works. Of course, it all goes above Pankaj’s head, but what Achal masterfully shows is the reality of the Indian film industry where there is seldom space for a dreamer like Pankaj. Even we, as viewers, experience the condescension shown towards Pankaj when some of the Mumbai actors realize he is not from the National School of Drama, an institutional hallmark to be taken seriously in the acting profession.
The film takes you on an emotional rollercoaster with poignant class analysis and beautiful visual grammar. Like the title itself, a fog of uncertainty envelops Pankaj’s journey to manifesting his dreams. Clever and thought-provoking metaphors are a common occurrence in the film. There is a not-so-hidden Easter egg in the film. It’s the name of the protagonist. Perhaps it is a reference to the great Indian actor, Pankaj Tripathi, who made it big even though he had humble beginnings. Will our Pankaj follow in the footsteps of Mr. Tripathi or will he be lost in the shadows like millions before him? Will he choose economic stability and family and let his dreams take a backseat? There’s only one way to find out.
Director: Achal Mishra
Writers: Abhinav Jha, Achal Mishra, Anubhav Priya
Stars: Abhinav Jha, Bijay Kumar Sah, Prashant Rana
You can watch the film here.