“I don’t think we should look for messages in films,” said filmmaker Rajat Kapoor at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival press conference this past weekend. “It’s reductionist.” Such a sentiment suits Kapoor’s movie Ankhon Dekhi (“Through My Own Eyes“), which closed the 2014 festival. It’s a film that is at its most moving when it is simply experienced.
Veteran character actor Sanjay Mishra plays Raje, a middle-aged man with a comfortable life and a family he loves. He lives in a small flat in Delhi with his own wife and kids, plus his younger brother, Rishi (Kapoor), Rishi’s wife, and their son.
When the gossipy priest’s son exposes Raje’s daughter Rita’s (Maya Sarao) romantic relationship with Ajju (Namit Das), Raje meets the boyfriend to see if he’s as much of a lout as everyone says he is. Raje discovers that Ajju is a harmless puppy dog of a man. This causes Raje to commit himself to only trusting that which he sees for himself.
This new governing principle makes it hard for Raje to continue working as a travel agent. How can he tell a customer how long a flight to a foreign country will take when he’s never made the trip himself? Worse, Raje’s new way of operating creates a rift between him and Rishi.
Ankhon Dekhi doesn’t attempt to make sweeping philosophical statements through Raje’s choices. The characters discuss broad issues, such as the aspects of language that are more convenient than they are accurate, but Kapoor avoids tying up the narrative with a tidy moral lesson.
Instead, the movie feels like a window into Raje’s life for a short period of time. We see how his values affect his family and how they influence his neighbors. He gains a loyal following at the barbershop, and his acolytes sometimes take his ideas to ridiculous extremes.
There are breathtaking moments in Ankhon Dekhi, when the cast and crew function in complete harmony. Look around in busy scenes such as when Raje holds court in his living room and notice how perfectly every supporting actor is executing his or her role. The acolytes listen to Raje attentively; Rita listens disinterestedly; Raje’s wife (Seema Pahwa) frustratedly tries to do her chores with a house full of people.
Such scenes highlight just how hard it is to make a really good movie. The right actors need to be cast. They need to have clear motivation in every scene, no matter how small their roles are. The director has to get the technical aspects of the shot just right.
There are many such perfect scenes in Ankhon Dekhi. It’s a remarkable achievement for Kapoor, who wrote the film, in addition to directing and acting in it. It’s impossible to imagine anyone executing the role of Raje better than Mishra. Ankhon Dekhi is a delight to watch.