A psychological thriller set in Mumbai, in which a police inspector enters the seedy world of child trafficking, in search of his kidnapped daughter. Screens at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival.

Slick but slight

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Sunrise has all the trademarks of a director who sees himself as a visual stylist. Director Partho Sen-Gupta splendidly augments the script he co-wrote with Yogesh Vinayak Joshi by going dialogue-free for long passages, letting the heavy lifting be done by dark brooding camerawork and that favourite toy of contemporary filmmakers – excellent sound design. The film starts out as the story of a Mumbai policeman named Joshi (played by Adil Hussain), who is on the trail of ‘something’ that involves a lot of wet weather driving, or brandishing his gun as he prowls the dirty streets in monsoonal rain. There are men who know too much, but aren’t telling; apparently corrupt colleagues, and a nightclub called Paradise where sari-ed dancers give lacklustre performances in the hope of attracting a private audience with a drunken patron. Eventually a clue as to why we’re watching all this comes in a verbal reference to an appointment Joshi once missed with his school-age daughter.

The film has a sleek, sensuous veneer of inky darkness, and Hussain makes a fair stab at portraying a pensive man ready to explode due to an excessive emotional burden. But after about 20 minutes of the film shuffling its narrative around to indicate that we’re inside Joshi’s mind more than in Mumbai, it is obvious, as is often the case with aspiring visual stylists, that the bag of cinematic tricks is a cover for a lack of substance. There are no real surprises on offer here. Joshi never becomes anything more than a cipher for collective Indian guilt about the more than 100,000 children who go missing – many presumably trafficked – every year in the subcontinent. Joshi is a man with a grim expression, confronted by a horrendous truth about his society, but his rage – and the film’s moral position – feels confected. The stylishness of camera and art direction has either drained passion from the story or is a cover for the fact that the passion was never really there.

Visual stylists may admire Ingmar Bergman (catch Persona at the festival to see the man at his best) or Wong Kar-wai, but do not grasp that when a master filmmaker moves a story forward without words in pure images it’s more than padding to an underdeveloped story. Sen-Gupta’s talent as an art director (which is how he began his film career) is not in doubt, but his grasp of narrative is flimsy.

Joshi visits Paradise three times. It appears to be a 'coulda/woulda/shoulda' scenario. While the initial experience is near identical, it generates a different outcome each time – with the third being the most deadly. It recalls Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, but most will be more familiar with the shootout in the Martin Scorsese movie Schrader scripted, Taxi Driver. But mostly, it’s about Joshi in the rain… The film is not so predictable that it is easy to accurately foresee whether it will end in family regret or family union, but would any savvy audience be in any doubt that a film called Sunrise, that 90 percent occurs in the rain at night, will have a daytime scene as its finale?

Read more from the 2015 Sydney Film Festival


1 hour 25 min