In the most simplistic terms, Kia and Cosmos, the debut feature film by Sudipto Roy is the coming-of-age story of a young autistic girl who has a far from perfect life and wants to get to the truth and only that in her own capacity. But watch closely and patiently, and this beautiful film is so much more than that.
The story is based on the book – The curious incident of the dog at the night time, and I would not know how similar or different this adaptation is, because I have not read the book (now I will try to). But even as an independent entity, writer director Sudipto Roy very delicately nurtures the film and creates the intriguing world of a fifteen year old autistic girl Kia (Ritwika Pal), who is challenged with her power of speech and expressions, but is amazingly perceptive for her age and many emotions. Her memory, analytical skills and writing abilities are razor sharp, her world is filled with numbers & patterns, puzzles, Felu’da, Byomkesh Bakshi and adventures of Tintin. She makes up for her imperfections in speech though her passion for writing. And she is very clear about her likes and dislikes. She loves her diary, her music, anything that is red in colour, and her close friends in her teacher Souvik (Zahid Hossain) and the rickshaw-puller Rabi (Shraman Chatterjee). She dislikes loud noise, lack of clarity (and hence metaphors), lies, the colour yellow, her mother’s friend Anup (Amaan Reza), and isn’t particularly fond of her mother Dia (Swastika Mukherjee) either. And she badly misses the people who have abruptly gone missing from her life. Foremost, its her father Kabir (Joy Sengupta), and recently the pregnant cat Cosmos as well, who is dead and Kia is investigating her murder under wraps.
Her investigation files are taking the shape of a sharp mystery thriller in her diary, and only Souvik is privy to her observations. In a way, Kia’s diary and her reading sessions with Souvik become the mirror of a stream of complicated thoughts brewing in her adolescent mind, as she is coming to terms with her parents’ infidelity, developing her own notions of friendship between adults, sexuality and attraction (including her sharp observations about a possible homosexual relationship of her teacher), and trying to understand her new found attraction for Rabi. Credit to Sudipto Roy’s rather compassionate gaze towards this world and an overall positive tonality, that we don’t see her trustworthy people trying to take any advantage of Kia’s innocence, abruptly reacting to her perceptive observations or coercing her mind with manipulative actions. We see Roy using the same strokes of kindness and societal warmth as Kia embarks on an audacious journey to find bigger truths of life after having reached a conclusion on the end of Cosmos. And through this empathetic gaze, possibly Roy is insisting his audience to be equally patient in this journey, believe that the world is a good place and give Kia the breathing space to come of age.
All this when her relationship with the person closest to her life is the most troublesome. From very early on, we find a serious lack of trust and comfort on Kia’s part towards her mother. She rubs off any of her caressing touches, opens herself up in her diary only in her private space away from any intrusions of Dia, explicitly complains about her mother being abusive to her, and deep within finds Dia more responsible for her parents’ fights and separation. Very recently, she is most upset about her mother being very indifferent to Cosmos’s death – Kia possibly identifies herself in Cosmos’s marginalized entity at times, and somewhere equates the killing of the pregnant cat to the sudden disappearance of her father at other times. And on the other end of the spectrum is Dia, who is possibly exhausted with what life has dished out to her in terms of a partner’s infidelity and misaligned passion, a far from normal child who doesn’t think highly of her, and every related baggage that comes along with. She has tried being a loving wife and mother, but the closest people of her life have not been very kind to her, and time has unknowingly created a shield between her and Kia. In one of the most moving scenes of the film, we see Dia struggling to break through that shield in an attempt to reach out to Kia and seek her confidence, a moment that immediately took me back to Rituparno Ghosh’s Unishe April and the empathetic night of breaking barriers between Sarojini and Aditi. Just like Ghosh, Sudipto Roy poignantly humanizes the mother daughter relationship in one terrific sequence and secures our empathy for both. You cannot help but identify with Dia in all her helplessness at that very moment, while weeping along side Kia in her pain.
A big shout-out to all the performing artists in front of and behind the camera who leave deep impressions through their effortless collaboration to evoke strong emotions. Zahid Hossain and Shraman Chatterjee add a warm humane touch to their friendly characters to keep them grounded and reassure the existence of goodness in this world. May all Kias of the world find their innocence protected through their own Rabis and Souviks. Joy Sengupta adds his own charm to the short presence of Kabir, and especially shines in a flashback moment. Swastika Mukherjee proves yet again why she is considered one of the finest actresses of bengali cinema today and makes Dia effortlessly flesh and blood with all her struggles and imperfections. But it is Ritwika Pal who delivers the masterful performance of the film; of the struggling yet a sharp, perceptive girl who is as clear to herself as she is confusing to the world. Perfectly pitched never to appear forced or trying too hard (as is the case of most of such characters turning to hamming caricatures in many films), Ritwika seamlessly dissolves herself into Kia and makes her oozing with warmth, wonder, and resolve at all times. Even when Aditya Varma’s brilliant camera zooms in to capture her innermost emotions, one can only see and feel Kia in her most natural and innocent self. It will certainly be remembered as a fantastic debut performance for a long long time.
The team behind the camera deserves the same accolades if not more in their own right. About seventy percent of the film’s well thought out dialogues are in English and Sudipto Roy‘s perceptive writing blends in Bangla as needed with the same seamlessly. Cinematographer Aditya Varma has a wonderful eye for capturing the best of frames and the collage that he stitches together through discrete captures tells a vibrant intriguing story. It wouldn’t have harmed the film had he controlled his urge for too many closeups, a few peculiar camera angles, or some random repeating zoom shots of say Dia’s feet, but they find their own perspective when well placed (like shots mounted on zoom to capture the close-knit family time, or Kia’s discomfort of certain motor skills, or the teary eyed Dia in her weak moments). Anirban Maity‘s editing is a strength and a weakness of the film at the same time. Strictly speaking, there was scope to recover about twenty minutes from the film (and that would have possibly made the film a little more widely accessible as well), but the story also deserved the sensitivity and care of an unhurried pace in many places. Kia is uncomfortable with chaos or noise in her life, and may be trying to fast forward her journey too much would have robbed some character out of it. The journey is brilliantly complemented by the minimalistic sound design by Abhinav Agnihotri and equally sparse but a soothing musical score by Neel Adhikary. They all come together well as one cohesive unit to deliver a beautiful experience; and a big shout-out to the warm gesture of the filmmaker, as he credits the film as by “Sudipto Roy & team” in many promotional interfaces. Hope to see this best practice carried forward by others as well in the future.
It is interesting that for a Kia who isn’t fond of metaphors in life, her partner of the title card becomes the biggest metaphor of the film. Interestingly named Cosmos, it stands for the unbound world of unknown truths and emotional aspirations that Kia is seeking through her investigative lens. Kia and Cosmos is her journey of self discovery and growing up, of finding hope and positivity, and of finding the wind beneath her wings to fly. Sudipto Roy & Team ensure the same sense of contentment for us, the audience, as we become an integral part of Kia’s emotional journey and occasional triumph. We just need to patiently give Kia, that delicate, breathing space. And we should. To her, and to this unique little film as well.
Kia and Cosmos is streaming on Netflix.
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