MAMI 2023: 'Stolen' Is A Cinematic Intersection Of Tragedy, Comedy, & Social Commentary

Stolen Karan Tejpal

If like me, you deal almost exclusively in untimely humour, nothing would appeal to you in more earnest than comedy amidst tragedy. It is one of the most human experiences to find laughter amidst senseless cruelty. And the writers of ‘Stolen’, starring Abhishek Banerjee have managed to encapsulate just that.

Having premiered at the 80th Venice International Film Festival, the film traversed through a special mention in Zurich, and finally arrived at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2023. Directed by Karan Tejpal and produced by Gaurav Dhingra of Jungle Book Studio, ‘Stolen’ is a film inspired by true events, which follows the journey of a mother in the desperate quest for her abducted 5-month-old infant daughter.

The film opens with a quiet close-up of an infant lying awake in the embrace of her sleeping mother. We see the silhouette of a dark, indistinct figure crossing the screen, whisking the infant away. There is a quietness about this sequence of events that leaves viewers feeling rather uneasy. As the mother awakens to realise that her infant is missing, she hastily gathers up her things and begins running about, at what appears to be a station platform, frantically asking people whether they’ve seen her baby. A man, Raman, gets caught in the crossfire of the chaos that ensues, eventually getting wrongly accused of the abduction of the infant. Just then, his brother, Gautam, a man of seeming wealth, arrives at the platform to pick Raman up. As the confusion gets cleared up, the two men and the woman venture out in search of the addicted infant on a journey fraught with distrust, friction and what can only be described as a mother’s desperation.

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The writing is crisp and intentional in its use of language. The dialect of the woman’s Bengali is often attributed to “tribal” speak. The woman is clearly impoverished and has nothing left to lose save for her baby. It’s interesting to note that while all the main characters, including the missing baby, have clearly assigned names, the name of the woman is unclear; a euphemism of sorts to her multi-fold identity as being invisible, even inconsequential. The dynamic between the trio is one of the conflicts between learned distrust and innate empathy amongst people from the two extreme echelons of societal hierarchy.

The film addresses themes of rampant child abductions, the mishandling of misinformation, consequential mob justice, public lynchings, and illegal surrogacy, among others. The most beautiful aspect of the narrative is the fact that as audience members, you venture on the same oscillating distrust of this woman who we know little to nothing about; a reality true to the lives of most below the poverty line. Juxtaposed with this, is the plethora of exposition we have about the relationship between the wealthy brothers and their family dynamic as well as the fact that they have both come to attend their mother’s wedding.

There is a heartbreaking close-up of the woman, with her infant reaching for her face, that encompasses the true nature of “there two sides to truth”. In a world where both sides may exist equally justifiable in their own right, one side may be flat-out ignored because of the inherent inequity prevalent all around us.

The film starring Abhishek Banerjee, with Shubham and Mia Maelzer in key roles, is a showcase of earnest performances. Amidst moments of feel-bad laughter and a riveting screenplay, this visual safari of a thriller is one to watch out for!

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