Summary:The Great Indian Butterfly tells a lot and shows little making it a journey through hell… for us, the poor unfortunate audience
The Great Indian Butterfly tackles head-on multiple abstract themes of love (and its absence), peace, happiness, joy, pleasure, guilt, grief, search etc in a matter typical of new Indian art house films. There are abrupt cuts and fade-outs to flashbacks and dreamlike sequences. There is a smattering of symbolism. There is inclusion of music through unconventional ways such as live performances, and a recent trend that has been adopted to appeal to urban Indian audiences and foreign viewers is to only have the actors speak in English throughout. Unfortunately, the movie finds little success in any of the levels; the main deterrent here is the abundance of telling and little of showing, and hence we never really feel for the characters and their situations because they keep telling us every damn thing they are feeling.
Almost three-fourth of the film is taken up by banal accusations thrown again and again by the two lead characters who are pretty comfortable at venting their feelings to each other. Even the film techniques are not successful – the cuts are jarring and the narrative quite confusing, the symbolism doesn’t really work for reasons explained later in the review, the background score is unmemorable and worse is the post-synchronous dubbing which robs the complexities of spatial relations created through audio (for example, the dialogs of a character at a distance are heard at same volume as that of a character closer to the screen).
Speaking of plot, White Feather Films has done a wonderful job in giving a scintillating synopsis for the film (you can read it on the IMDb site). The words themselves have been carefully chosen so to raise as much curiosity about the film as possible; it almost sounds like a work that could’ve been made by someone like Terrence Malick. In my own words, the synopsis would sound like this: Amateur entomologist Krish and his bickering career-oriented wife Meera are on a search to find a resolution to their unhappy lives, with the husband believing that the search would end only when they are able to locate a rare species of butterfly. On their pursuit, the two have verbal tussles where a few skeletons tumble out of the closet – we get to know what Meera chose to sacrifice in order to get a promotion, and what Krish gave up before marrying Meera. Not keeping it simple and straight, their story is interrupted often either by a white man who just can’t stop talking abstruse concepts about butterflies and the lessons he has learned from his own search, or flashbacks of Krish’s past affair with Liza or a current subplot involving Meera’s telephonic conversations with her filthy-minded boss. We just have to wait and watch whether the search would culminate in bringing happiness or end fruitlessly.
If you want to watch a similar movie told a million times better, you should watch Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper starrer Adaptation, which is really how the theme of search should be tackled. In Adaptation, Meryl Streep played an author named Susan Laroche whose bestseller was to be adapted to the silver screen by Cage, a scriptwriter. That movie was about Cage’s search in completing his screenplay, which was a complicated task considering the ambiguous ending of the book itself. In Great Indian Butterfly, Krish keeps reading a book of the same title, but we rarely see him touching the book in the course of the film. We rather get crude shots of Barry John acting as a character who keeps babbling in between, confounding us for most part about his purpose in the film. I won’t reveal the true purpose of his character, but I would want to ask one thing: why could the film not do away with Barry for most part, and allow Krish to read passages from the book instead (the device of ‘internal sound’ could’ve easily been used).
The flashbacks of Krish’s affair with Liza is also crudely shown, especially in the first sequence (the one where Liza is lying nude on the bed with a blue bed-sheet covering her derrière) which is so dominated by the color blue that one is confused whether the scene is a memory or a dream. On the other hand, Meera’s scenes with her boss have only one problem – Meera tends to fight and crib too much even while speaking with her boss. But worse than all these are Krish’s and Meera’s arguments, which start with Meera admonishing her husband for not setting the alarm and then move further to issues like absence of love, past affairs etc. Not once do you really care for the characters because the two don’t share the tempestuous chemistry a bickering couple should share, but the writer is more to be blamed for this than the actors.
Sarthak Dasgupta keeps the various themes the central topics of discussion, and this makes the arguments very banal. There is an absence of subtlety, and the repetitive hearings of ‘You have never done this’, ‘We share no intimacy’ etc can get highly dull. When we finally get to know what’s going on between Liza and Krish, we simply wonder why Krish could not tell it immediately when Meera walked out on him. When I saw Krish stand outside his room in his towel watching Meera leave, I thought ‘Man, show some effort! Your inexplicable silence makes things worse!’; I personally thought a secret like ‘Krish and Liza having an illegitimate child’ would’ve been slightly more effective since it is parallel to the plot of Krish and Meera not having any children themselves.
The camera work is also very choppy at times. Thank God this film didn’t get a wider release, otherwise ‘theater and film acting coach’ Barry John’s own acting abilities and film selection would’ve been questioned.