At one point, one of the characters in Chaurahen (“Crossroads”) asks another if he thinks she’s a ghost. She asks it as a rhetorical question about the state of their relationship, but I’d been wondering if she actually was a ghost before she voiced the question. There’s something about the characters in Chaurahen that seems out of sync with reality.
The film is an adaptation of three short stories by author Nirmal Verma. I’m going to assume that much of the original dialog made it from page to screen, because the way that the characters speak to each other feels very written and inorganic.
Thematically, the interwoven stories are linked by death, specifically the way the death of a family member affects the living relatives left behind. The theme is most obvious in the best of the stories, concerning a young man who returns home to Kochi following the death of his older brother.
Nandu (Arundathi Nag) debates how long he has to wait to return to his happy life in Vienna after his brother, Keshi, is killed in military service. His parents seem desperate for Nandu to stay but know nothing about their youngest son, having previously reserved their affection for seemingly perfect Keshi. It’s a painful yet perfectly understandable situation.
Death also haunts the life of a young writer in Mumbai, Farooq (Ankur Khanna). He lives in a few rooms of a giant house he inherited from his deceased parents. When Farooq’s girlfriend, Ira (Soha Ali Khan), asks for a tour of the rooms Farooq keeps locked, she learns that her boyfriend is mired in grief.
Ira’s the character who asks if she’s a ghost. For a while, I honestly wasn’t sure if she was or wasn’t (she’s not, I don’t think). Ira and Farooq speak grandly about philosophical issues, taking at each other and not to each other. I found it hard to muster compassion for them.
The final plotline is indirectly about literal death and more about the death of a relationship. There’s a lingering resentment between Dr. Bose (Victor Banerjee) and his lonely wife, and he pursues a romantic affair with a blonde French girl who works at the local used book store. This Kolkata-based story is at its most interesting when it focuses on Dr. and Mrs. Bose (Roopali Ganguly), and less so when focused on Dr. Bose and Lea, the young woman.
Most of the problem is the clunky way Lea is played by Kiera Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter). Chaplin’s acting is wooden, and she even walks with a stiffness that diminishes her allure.
The acting overall is uneven. Ira’s pretentiousness is minimized somewhat by Khan’s innate likeability. The actors in Nandu’s storyline, including Nandu himself, are good.
The film ends with several of the characters from the disparate storylines crossing paths at what is presumably the airport in Kochi. Why would the characters from Mumbai and Kolkata chose to fly out of Kochi instead of closer airports? Logic is abandoned for the sake of a memorable closing shot.
That shot is emblematic of my problems with Chaurahen. It’s a movie about ideas and feelings but lacks the substance to make the experience meaningful. Chaurahen looks great and is well-paced but needs more finesse.
*Despite having been completed in 2007, Chaurahen opened in Indian theaters on March 16, 2012. The film is internationally available for streaming on Mela. Chaurahen has a runtime of 87 minutes. Its dialog is primarily in English with some Hindi.