“Do you have a handkerchief?” Shirish Mathur (Vikas Kumar) asks his wife Geeta Mathur (Saloni Batra). The two have just run over a rickshaw puller, and Shirish doesn’t want blood on his seats. “The Knot,” which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, follows the couple after the crash — which Geeta plays down as an accident and Shirish disregards, and which saddles Manoj (Nehpal Gautam), the victim’s relative, with immense pain and enormous medical bills.
Most of “The Knot” is veneer, a thin glass that, if knocked on, would shatter. It’s a good thing writer-director Ashish Pant doesn’t knock very hard. Pant softly approaches the accident and the resulting decay of the Mathurs’ relationship, which was already on the decline. This is a story of class and suffering, and not a very fascinating one at that.
Shirish is an entitled man with an ego, the kind who might have been a tech executive in a different world. Unknown to him, Geeta has hired Manoj — who found her license at the scene and approached her at home for help — to be their driver. Shirish’s demand for a driver reflects his larger desire for elite treatment. Everything must be expedited, so he tries to bribe an official to speed up his small business loan and berates a contractor for not having cleared another family’s makeshift home from his planned house’s plot. The conflicts are clear and green from the start but never ripen.
There’s no bigger testament to the film’s inability to mature than Geeta’s character, who is trampled over by Shirish, desires unheeded. Shirish operates without considering her: buying the land, planning a surprise birthday party and announcing her pregnancy. Pant establishes this ample, meaty background but never delves into it. What does Geeta do with her time, other than ask her maid to have an abortion? How does she feel about the crash anyway, aside from the standard shock and guilt? Geeta and the script float untethered to depth.
Perhaps those failures are partly attributed to the cast. Batra barely scratches the surface of Geeta’s inner turmoil. Meanwhile, Kumar puts together a haphazard performance, playing too far into Shirish’s disregard for Geeta instead of the dilemmas of a marriage and a man in distress. His performance often pales in this poorly directed script, which leaves its cast little room to move.
Cinematographer Pawel Kacprzak must realize this, because his camera only infrequently indulges the actors’ tendencies. Kacprzak often opts for profiles and distant shots, but his choices are not without reason. In fact, the camerawork is the best part of this film, neatly cleaving frills for a streamlined finish that succinctly captures Pant’s lacking narrative. Smart compositions highlight the class struggles — a split screen of a child in that ragged home on the plot is juxtaposed by Shirish and Geeta walking away in their bright, clean clothing — and visualizes the couple’s tug of war.
Kacprzak’s work hints at the most redeeming aspect of “The Knot.” The film is flat, but it’s also a wonderful breath of creativity — the director and cinematographer coalesce, crafting something calmly down-to-earth and human, in contrast to its disaffected subjects. Like Manoj, this is a film that’s living the world rather than ignoring or just discovering it.
There’s something reassuring about a film that presents life straightforward. “The Knot,” despite its underwhelming, mediocre storytelling captures that essence. It starts as an unflinching view of the world, then takes it a step past reality, for both easy-watching and unnerving results. “The Knot” never taps into the strength of its crux, however, and the viewer rarely feels truly uncomfortable. At the end of the day, “The Knot” is the one you have some fun with — not the one you marry.
Dominic Marziali covers film. Contact him at [email protected].