Sandcastle is a movie that so wants to be meaningful that it feels desperate and inauthentic. Debutant director Shomshuklla’s decision to take the auteur approach — writing the screenplay, casting the film, and even handling the costuming herself — ultimately dooms the project, since every element feels compromised by the director’s divided attention.
The story centers on the unhappy life of Sheila (Shahana Chatterjee), a married writer who won’t stop talking about her feelings. She talks to her friends and her book agent. She talks aloud to herself while sitting in a cafe. She even invents a happy-go-lucky fictional alter ego named Maya (Malvika Jethwani) to ensure than she never has to shut up.
While this fictitious alter ego is interesting in concept, the rules governing Maya are unclear. Is she a hallucination only Sheila can see? Is she a split personality that speaks via Sheila’s body? Is she intermittently corporeal, brought to life by Sheila’s will then dismissed? Does she exist without Sheila?
At a couple of points, Sheila’s family members seem to see Maya and be able to interact with her. (They also throw a birthday party for a little girl who appears to be entirely a figment of Sheila’s imagination. Does no one in her family suspect schizophrenia?) When Sheila asks her family what they think of Maya, they respond with oddball statements like, “She’s a riddle,” or, “Is she a mystery?”
As if the goofy observations weren’t annoying enough, virtually every line in the movie is delivered with an extended pause in the middle, in order to make the characters seem deep and introspective. If the content is good, the audience will be able to tell without it having to call such obvious attention to itself.
So much emphasis is placed on Maya’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl role in Sheila’s life that all of the other flesh-and-blood characters get short shrift. Sheila’s husband, Vikram (Rajat Sharma), is supposed to be the source of all Sheila’s problems, but he only shows up in a handful of scenes. When he is around, he seems nice enough. If he’s an awful guy, we need to see it.
There’s so much damned talking in Sandcastle that Shomshuklla herself appears to get bored. As Sheila and a friend dissect the role of the contemporary housewife, the camera wanders to shots of birds, potted plants, and a bowl of cashews. If there isn’t enough happening on screen to hold the director’s attention, why should the audience bother watching?
The story structure is so loose that it hardly exists. Scenes are divided into chapters in a nod to Sheila’s profession, but there’s no order or significance to the chapter organization. It’s hard to tell which scenes are flashbacks and which are present day.
Much of the dialogue seems cobbled together from a diary full of observations on modern womanhood, but the ideas don’t pull together to form a cohesive story. Since most of the ideas are conveyed via conversations between two or three characters, the film lacks visual interest. Perhaps Sandcastle would’ve made a better book than a movie.