|Autohead (Rohit Mittal, 2016)|
A micro-budget docu-fiction with a stress on the fiction, Autohead is Rohit Mittal’s first feature. A three-man film crew follows the daily life of Narayan (Deepat Sampat), an auto rickshaw driver in the slums of Mumbai. The crew documents a thirty-year-old man racked with sexual frustration, growing paranoia, and seething anger. And things only get worse from there.
Mittal shows promise with his first film. Autohead appropriates clichéd documentary grammar (handheld shots, direct addresses, editing in the middle of scenes, moments in which Narayan tells the crew to stop recording, etc.) to draw attention to cinema’s role with poverty and class conflict in India. In this way, and as inevitably mentioned by critics, Autohead is a blend of Man Bites Dog (1992) and Taxi Driver (1976). But Mittal’s film doesn’t have the former’s comic exaggeration nor the latter’s full-fledged urban expressionism. Nor should Autohead mirror these qualities exactly. It is its own film after all.
Autohead poses blunt social issues; it gushes forth from the dialogue. But what lingers in the mind after a few days away from the film is Sampat’s performance. A portrait is as good as its subject, and this is the case with Autohead. Captured in long takes, Sampat imbues Narayan as an enigmatic and protean figure. His behavior erratic, he changes from one scene to the next. He swaggers like a puffed up peacock, delighted by the attention he gets from the camera’s eye. He explodes when talking with customers or his mother. Narayan is an enigma who reveals his riddle by film’s end.