Kamala (Geetanjali Thapa), is a young Indian mother who, together with her daughter Malnya (Manya Gupta), embark on long mission to find Kamala's missing husband. Along the way, they meet Nawazudin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a free spirited army deserter who acts as reluctant guide and protector.

22 Jan 2014 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 5 Jun 2019 - 11:16 AM
2.5
Slow burn road trip fizzles to a stop.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: In Liar’s Dice, the snows of the mountain village of Chiktul, near the border of Indo-Tibet, bake constantly in the sun; the villagers dress for an extreme blend of hot and cold. Kamala (Geetanjali Thapa) lives in Chiktul, where satellite dishes set off simple wood-frame houses, with her young daughter (Manya Gupta). At the beginning of the film, Kamala sets out to look for her husband, whom she hasn’t heard from in several months, with her daughter and a pet goat in tow. Soon a new paradox presents itself in the form of a stranger, a man, who may be neither friend nor foe but both at once.

the tension between their characters barely moves past its original, obvious form

Writer and director Geetu Mohandas emphasises the physical nature of Kamala’s journey—she is rarely without a goat or a child under one arm—and her blind determination becomes the film’s central dramatic force. This is in part because very little other information is forthcoming either from Kamala or from Nawazuddin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the drifter with the suspiciously close haircut who saves Kamala and her daughter from a pair of menacing truck drivers. A prickly bond is struck between the pair and then renewed, without much variation, across the rest of this slow-moving road trip. Kamala fears Nawazuddin but also needs his protection, which he is willing to offer at a price. Each demonstrates a baseline of contempt for the other, almost as a formality, though small kindnesses erupt on both sides.

Visually engaging, Liar’s Dice depicts rural India’s mountains laced with mud roads and Delhi’s city streets coursing with idle men to evocative, often menacing effect. 'Delhi is a dangerous place for a woman," Nawazuddin warns Kamala. 'They won’t spare you on the train." The impossibility of traveling unescorted makes a prisoner of Kamala when they finally arrive in Delhi, where Nawazuddin runs a dice game in the public square while Kamala, her daughter, and the goat languish in a squalid motel room. Her determination has taken her as far as it will go.

A number of people fled the press screening of Liar’s Dice, an entry in the world dramatic competition, well before that point. Slow paced and slow to the point, the film is trying at times, suffering more on the latter score than on the former. Both Thapa and Siddiqui glower very well, I believed every dark flicker, but the tension between their characters barely moves past its original, obvious form. Gupta and the goat are beyond charming, and infuse with badly needed light a repetitive journey with a muddled twist ending. A closing title dedicates Liar’s Dice to those Indians whose stories remain buried in that vast country’s mountains and urban slums. The faces Mohandas gives to two such stories are memorable enough for the viewer to feel the lack of something more.

Details

1 hour 44 min

Genres