The many worlds of Kia and Cosmos

Sayantan Ghosh | Updated on August 02, 2019

Me and mine: Ritwika Pal as Kia, a teenager who strictly guards the entry to her private world   -  Special Arrangement

Now available on Netflix India, the Bengali film threads together many disparate elements: A dreamy teenager, her forlorn mother and the mysterious death of a neighbourhood cat

Kia’s world is fiercely private. It consists of numbers, yellow taxis, the colour red, of detectives Feluda and Byomkesh. Dia, the teenager’s single mother, is often barred at the threshold. The father, who lives away from the daughter for the most part, fares better than his estranged wife. But Cosmos, a neighbourhood cat who remains out of sight, is more important in the scheme of things. Her death by poisoning moves Kia to the extent that she decides to investigate the matter in the style of her favourite fictional sleuths.

This is the world of Kia and Cosmos, one of Netflix India’s latest acquisitions in its Bengali-language collection. Directed by Sudipto Roy, the 123-minute film explores the inner recesses of the mind of Kia, who suffers from something known as pervasive developmental disorder. It slows the development of social and communication skills. Seen from Roy’s perspective, we realise that we stand to benefit from Kia’s sensitive, truthful, curious and non-discriminatory outlook towards life and living things.

This poignant coming-of-age film is unlike any other in recent times. It’s about a protagonist with a disability but the maker doesn’t manipulate the audience into caring for or sympathising with Kia. In fact, the film begins with scenes of Kia wandering alone, talking to the audience. It makes you wonder why she is unafraid of roaming the busy streets of Kolkata without an attendant. But the very next moment, you realise that she has no reason to be frightened. Kia doesn’t rely on those who think she’s any less than the rest of the world..

Kia’s uniqueness also results from the value she attaches to little details of everyday life. And when she plays her ukulele, she becomes a person filled with hope and possibilities in her eyes. Kia finds a friend in Rabi, a young rickshaw-puller who takes her to school and back. There’s a hint of subdued intimacy in their equation, but the film, to its credit, doesn’t probe this further. Indian mainstream cinema is cursed with the habit of hand-holding the audience, leading them to comforting, imminent closures, providing answers to questions no one has raised. Kia and Cosmos offers no such easy solutions; it makes the characters collide and then watches from a distance, allowing the set of people to chart their own course.

Ritwika Pal is a knockout as Kia. She stammers, limps, pauses, falters, falls, and makes space in your heart. Like the film critic Roger Ebert had said about Dustin Hoffman’s performance in Rain Man, Pal doesn’t play Kia as “cute, or lovable, or pathetic”. Joy Sengupta makes you see why Kia is constantly drawn towards a father who is almost never around physically. And Sraman Chatterjee as Rabi is so effective that it makes you wish for a friend like him.

Swastika Mukherjee delivers one of her finest performances in the role of Kia’s mother   -  Special Arrangement


But it’s Swastika Mukherjee as Dia, grappling with parenting, lack of companionship, solitude and pain, who delivers one of her most moving performances. A special mention must be made of the scene in which Dia, on a stormy night, walks barefoot towards the balcony, leaving footprints on the oxidised floor of her home. The rain mixes with tears as she tries to make sense of her world while struggling to convince her daughter of the same. This is an artiste at the peak of her craft.

Films such as Kia and Cosmos are not easy to summarise. But some of the best ones are like this. If someone told you that the film is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, you might even fall for it. It has the same sense of melancholia, urban ennui and isolation — recurrent themes in Murakami’s works — running through it. Neel Adhikari’s extraordinary score and Aditya Varma’s hypnotic photography only help accentuate this feeling. It’s funny then that Kia’s favourite restaurant in the film is called Peter Cat, an institution of sorts in Kolkata. Peter Cat is also the name of the jazz club which Murakami used to run with his wife in suburban Tokyo before he became a writer. The place was named after Murakami’s beloved pet — a cat like Cosmos, whom we never see in the film. But not everything needs to be seen to be believed, much like the cosmos.

Sayantan Ghosh is a Delhi-based writer

Published on August 02, 2019

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