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  • Sukriti Chawla

The (Un)knowing Trope and its Fickle Faith: On ‘Confession’ (2024)

The scene of a dimly-lit interrogation room, premised upon recognition, features a righteous cop, smiling gently when he speaks of his wife, and a perfect criminal clad in black. This stage has been set a million times over, the image is familiar, and we pride ourselves on knowing what the inspectors say, and how the convicts never care. Such seamless safety of knowledge, however, is intricately stripped down and disallowed by Confession (2024)

Directed by Purujit Banwasi (UG‘24) and co-written by Abhijato Sensarma (UG‘24), the film employs the drama of the interrogation room to tell the story of an honest, hardworking cop, Inspector Talpade (Maahir Mohiuddin) and the primary suspect — almost-already-convict — in a high-profile confession, Ashraf Khan (Ishaan). With a production process spanning eight months, the film was conceived, written, storyboarded and cast during the summer of 2023, to be shot over only two nights — a logistical and artistic challenge made possible by the laborious stagings, readings, and rehearsals that preceded it. Confession premiered on January 19th of this year in a screening at Church Street, Bangalore, followed by an on-campus feature at Ashoka University on the 25th. 

The room at the time of the screening was jam-packed, and I was somehow fortunate to have gotten a seat saved right in the middle. I find myself at a loss to describe it any further because of the then-unexpected enthralling quality of the film: within these twenty minutes, it traversed themes otherwise prone to opposing any effective (affective) articulation, with a striking visuality and an eerie calm. While Purujit and Abhijato humbly described the process of their ideation as something that developed organically, the intentional nuance of thought and planning that went into this film has been astonishing to discover. Their cinematic references range from shots in the style of The Dark Knight (2008) and Zodiac (2007), to visual vocabularies developed in the likes of Vikram Vedha (2017), Visaranai (2015), and Paatal Lok (2020), as well as tonal rhythms discerned from Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s ‘The Box’ (2018) and Baishe Srabon (2011). It is no surprise, then, that the manner in which the film courts its genre is both indulgent and critical. 

The plot of Confession is, at first glance, deceptively simple: a murder investigation deemed clear-cut by a senior inspector turns out to have gaping holes in its story. The screenwriting and cinematographic technique of the film, however, extend this confusion about the case, using it as a medium to reflect upon tangible negotiations of morality. Maahir described his process of coming on board the project as prefaced by word-of-mouth casting calls for a “cop drama in Bangalore.” The short film is indeed that, and yet, much more. How does a form call to the body of work it contributes to — offer its proverbial tip of the hat — without falling into derision or platitudes? The character-image of Talpade is not novel: he is, as Maahir narrates, “a pretty straightforward character, rather innocent … who is confronted with something and has to respond.” The film uses the familiarity of these tropes — its scene set in a Mumbai thana named Shivaji Maharaj Memorial Police Station — in the same move that it disallows the audience any predictability in perceiving the narrative and its personas. This work is subtle: the bright-red kautaka (a ‘protection’ thread with widespread ritual significance in Hinduism) on Talpade’s wrist pierces the frame the first time he utters (and we hear) the name of the convict: “Ashraf Khan.” The Inspector continually and emphatically lays claim to both knowledge and power, speaking in the controlled self-respecting cadence reserved for ‘honest cops’, and yet, this claim falters at every instance. The camera does not sit still, and neither can we.

The unwillingness of Ashraf to placate Talpade’s sensibilities — his ‘casual’ attitude, all smirks and scoffs, interrupted only by questions that anger the inspector — is precisely what disrupts Talpade’s belief in his duty and work. Ashraf seems to shrug away his ‘testimony’ in the same breath that he utters (creates) it. His taunts, languid as they may be, are piercing: in complying with the inspector’s repeated demands that the accused speak, Ashraf forces Talpade to think of his family. The inspector’s cherished referent and affirmation of morality, with a power unimpeded by their visual absence from the frame, is dragged into the interrogation room. The conditional allowance of speech to Ashraf — that the convict must answer, but can only speak in a particular syntax — is not novel. However, Confession employs a meticulous method to demonstrate how acutely precarious power is in this ‘straight-forward’ dynamic. I do not intend here to make apparently grandiose arguments, but when a lecture by Madhavi Menon, about how the interchangeability of two ‘superficially’ dichotomous characters in a film creates an unshakeable discomfort, reminds you of a student-led production, you must give it its due. 

The film has a paradoxical, almost flirtatious, relation with the cop drama trope, locating its sites and shifts in everything ranging from a cup of water to a compelling camera angle or the delicious diegetic ironies which background the use of cliches, both visual and verbal. Vignesh Umesh, the Director of Photography, articulated this construction of the film’s imagery through instrumental decisions about lensing choices, contrast ratios, grading, and lighting. 

When asked about his engagement with the first draft and impression of the film, Maahir related discussions about why the convict is Muslim — was there a particular reason or role to this decision? — and why the choice has been made to emphasize the stereotypical figure of the Maharashtrian cop, stark and imposing in his very name. The logic of these narrative choices is found in the actor’s description of a moment in Talpade's emotional and ethical crisis:

I actually become powerless when I tell [Ashraf] that I know who’s speaking the truth, but [that I don’t understand] why he is doing this.

This question of kyun? ('why') anchors the script's play with position: Talpade’s anxiety to decode Ashraf’s actions, and his frustration when he is unable to. The film evokes its trope in a manner that reveals the instability of its characters. There is nothing quite so simple about these two people. Talpade is not permitted to cleanly separate his work from his conception of himself. He can haughtily ask Ashraf if he remembers him, but he cannot bear to consider whether he should or would remember Ashraf.

One can discern the sophistication with which Purujit and Abhijato have approached this crisis; the form of the film works with a theoretical criticality. Confession plays with knowledge, with who is delimited as its object, the ‘thing’ to be scrutinized and figured out, and who can presume an unshakeable position on the side of knowing, only to be unnerved by an insidious cluelessness. The visuality and writing of the Indian police, related by Abhijato as “a grammar embedded in [him],” are both consistently drawn upon and decimated. In a conversation about capturing these thematic shifts through the script, he remarked, “There’s just so much content the world has made in an interrogation room, it’s fascinating.” There is both heart and rigour to what they have created, not just for all the aforementioned reasons, but perhaps exponentially so for the manner in which this production was executed. 

In my conversations with members of the cast as well as with both Purujit and Abhijato, there emerged a sense of both artistic openness and clarity of thought, of a space and script that allowed its actors to engage affectively and generously, to question and to feel. Morality, privilege, honesty, tenderness — these abstractions are made into something palpable when Confession forces you to contend with ease and assumption. The actor faced with the camera’s brutality and the simultaneous freedom and powerlessness of expression; the character clamouring between his self-invested anchors and inescapable confrontation; the spectator enchanted, surprised, left baffled and questioning — this is my skeletal summary of an exquisite film.

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Feb 24

best movie

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