Capital I, a film by Indian director Amartya Bhattacharyya, is a surreal journey of awakening and contradiction. We follow Piyali, a young Indian woman who is studying psychology and is dealing with her inner issues. She is curious as others are in her town about a mysterious death in a house. Her persistent thirst for knowledge and information creates a sort of instability for her and her relationship with others. Her quest is displayed with music, sounds, colors and dreamlike sequences. When she is not discussing philosophy and existentialism with her professor, she is working out her issues with an imaginary female character in her mind. This character seems to represent her free and wild side she struggles to keep hidden. There is a dilemma, especially in a culture like hers, as a woman to keep a veil over her true desires and strength. Truth can only be hidden for so long before it is inevitably revealed and there is no way to avoid or control it. It is in the hiding that distortions and aberrations may arise and do harm.
The film takes a circuitous path, jumping here and there. It seems to say that in life we can do or believe or be what we choose, the destination is the same in the end. Our lives and the concept of time are an illusion, as is the need to always be in control not seeing the grand picture. Humans have a deep need for order, connection and meaning. Questions are what make this film interesting, posing questions and also causing the viewer to question as well. It does not say: here are the answers; it says keep experiencing and questioning. I also enjoyed the focus on the female energy as life, creation, birth and renewal extended to everything in our world and beyond, the theme repeated throughout the film.
Bhattacharyya also uses horoscopic symbolism and the color red, to represent various feelings and states of being. There are drawings accompanied by spoken poetry woven into the story to add more weight to the film. As the film progresses it feels more and more layered and substantial to the point that you are in it and not just a viewer. Occasionally the film’s stylistic leanings caused me to fall out of the story but such moments were few and brief. On the other hand, some moments have the power to fully envelop the viewer. I could see hints of Luis Buñuel’s filmmaking, where discomfort in watching a scene does not detract from its intriguing quality. Whichever moments these may turn out to be for you are personal, of course, dependent upon your own feelings going in and openness as a viewer.
A few minutes into watching this film, I have to confess I could have stopped watching as I was not prepared for its surreal structure, but I am so glad I didn’t. The gift of Capital I is the space it leaves for the audience to think for themselves. Relax and go for the ride.
Review written by Shirley Rodriguez