From an aerial perspective, we observe three men swimming the length of the mighty Brahmaputra. As they reach the bank, they put on their clothes and continue with their daily routine. This becomes a metaphor for the various characters in debutant Shrutismriti Changkakoti‘s Before Spring, an Assamese film, where individuals have to face their own vulnerabilities and find the strength to move forward. Premiered at the recently held Jio MAMI film festival in Mumbai, the film builds a narrative through delicate moments and explores the wonder of the ordinary.
In a simple and unspectacular way, the universe that the filmmaker creates allows us to traverse it with its peaceful pace, the gentleness and benevolence of its characters, their care for each other, and their interest in the world they are living in. The film captures the essence of human connection and the power of affinity, reminding us of the importance of adapting to change in our daily lives. Through its subtle storytelling, it appreciates the beauty in the small moments that make up our existence. As the young and elderly people negotiate with their lives, the atmosphere and feel of the story are conveyed through their arrestingly quiet, restrained manner.
The story of the film is set in a small town that is connected to the city by a river, where we come across men and women of various age groups who lead different lives, each of them fighting their own battles. Dulu (Himbarsha Das), a schoolgirl from an affluent family, is casually dating Jun (Abhijit Roy), a poor boy from another school who has failed twice in his class. Majoni (Upasana Priyam), a young girl preparing for her board exams, develops an affection for her tuition teacher, Pradeep (Monuj Borkotoky), despite the significant age gap. This is causing her to be distracted from her studies and making it difficult for her to focus. A married woman (Kanki Bordoloi) goes to the city to work in a small organization in Guwahati and supports her family because her husband, Monikanta, is not able to financially contribute to the family, and so there is tension between both of them. Their daughter Rekha’s (Ranjita Boruah) peace of mind is affected by the chaos at home, and so her boyfriend becomes a source of comfort for her. Situations take drastic turns, and coming over those stumbling blocks does not seem easy. When Pradeep stopped coming for the tuition classes, Majoni set out to discover the reason, only to be shattered by the harness of reality. As Dulu stops meeting Jun after he has failed his exam, the young boy realizes that their bond is not as strong as he thought. Monikanta discovers that his wife is happy in the company of another man, and he becomes concerned about the future of his daughter.
In the realm of storytelling, simplicity often goes hand in hand with depth. The efforts taken by a filmmaker to convey a narrative economically require conscious portions of intricacies so that the viewers can connect to the world being presented on the screen. By peeling back the layers, one can uncover the profound beauty and meaning hidden within a seemingly straightforward story. The world that Shrutismriti creates with Before Spring is a confirmation of such vision and storytelling prowess. The film simply engages us through the gentleness and benevolence of its characters, their concern for others, and their insecurity in the world they live in. A young man expresses his inner feelings to a teenage girl through letters. A mother advises her disheartened son not to take alcohol and ruin his life. A father who discovers a packet of cigarettes in his daughter’s clothes has to overlook the fact that, due to his lack of authority in the house. A teenage girl is chided by her elder sister for roaming around with a boy not belonging to their class. Such incidents blend lyricism with a firm grasp of social reality into the narrative, drawing our attention to the intensity of every moment, its complexity, and its frail beauty. It serves as a reminder that even amid dismay and struggles, there is a delicate beauty that exists within every moment of the multifaceted nature of life itself.
However, the delicate balance between subtlety and emotional connection with the characters is affected by a lack of sophistication in the treatment, leaving us grappling with more conflicting emotions. Dulu’s detachment from Jun, Monikanta’s emotional turmoil after the revelation of his wife’s infidelity, or Rekha’s attachment to her boyfriend required more development and exploration. To relate to their complex feelings and experiences, these storylines deserved more attention and depth. But through their journey of unrequited love, Jun and Majoni evoke a deep sense of empathy and compassion within us. The reason is that the screen time that these characters have shared has an immersive tone where we have witnessed their most vulnerable moments. Jun, after feeling insulted at Dulu’s house, sits alone in the boat, crying profusely. As he empties the lodged water on the boat, he feels as if he is vacating the emotional strain that has been weighing him down for so long. When Majoni gives the crestfallen flower to a child, it indicates that she has tied up loose ends and found closure in her own personal journey. Such exploration of depth and nuance in other characters would have allowed us to gain a deeper appreciation for the other characters and their quest for existence.
The performance by the ensemble cast has a thoughtful mix of vulnerability and innocence that perfectly captures the essence of their characters. Upasana Priyam‘s subtle expressions as a young girl whose experience of the first blush of youth is both relatable and endearing. Monuj Borkotoky portrays Pradeep, a character with questionable intentions who adds nuances to his character non-verbally. Abhijit Roy as Jun, who harshly learns the practicality of life, has a deserving presence on screen. The rest of the supporting cast also delivers relatable performances. The plaintive beauty of the alleys of rural Assam, shots of people on the boat, and the quaint interiors find expression in Jayanth Mathavan‘s cinematography. The editing by Abhishikta K seamlessly combines the different storylines into a comprehensive narrative. The sound design by Kalesh Laxmanan and Bambi brings a sense of realism and intensity to the film. Jerry Silvester Vincent‘s background score adds a pensive and melancholic atmosphere to the film.
Before Spring is a film made of tender stretches that exist gently, without grand entrances or final conclusions. It has a very pleasant naturalism, feels real in its presentation of events, and marks a promising start for the filmmaker.