With the second release of 2021, after a year completely whitewashed by the pandemic, Assamese cinema tries to find new grounds. The people have perhaps abandoned movies in a post pandemic reality but movies are yet to give up on its audiences. Arunjit Borah’s Midnight Song arrives just a week after Himanshu Prasad Das’s Goru but is the first theatrical release owing to Goru’s non theatrical screenings across Assam. Borah’s feature length directorial debut comes in the form of a chamber drama where a practically estranged married couple finds themselves in the doubtful company of a stranger who is welcomed to share the night. The specific genre explored here limits its dynamics to a small set of characters, limited locations and a short period of time which makes Midnight Song a story of one night involving only three characters confined indoors. It is risky but also an innovation in itself to having told a story with one hand tied behind which makes Midnight Song more than an honest attempt.
Mostly chamber dramas are driven by a situation which is an element of horror, suspense or surprise. But Midnight Song is more about the characters which is good. Monuj Borkotoky is the Stranger who poses as a social worker annoyed with the system. He is perhaps trying to lose the trail of an angry mob, whose misdeeds he might have uncovered. Rupam Chetia plays Bikramjit Buragohain who is rich, arrogant, self entitled and engaged in unlawful dealings and Kalpana Kalita, his wife, Mou, is conflicted and trapped in an unhappy marriage while sharing a mutual ill feeling with her husband. Domination or being exploited are themes that run parallel to all the individual character arcs as everything else unfolds over ambiguous terms where the audiences have to piece together the rest and this too is a great offering of the movie.
On the other hand, we are given the situation of a now exposed ploy of land mafias, to cover up which, certain amends are to be made. And thus the characters are already in an interesting premise even before being properly introduced but then this premise remains underutilized. The influence of these external conflicts are used to shape the characters of the story early on but abandoned later. It could have been also extended for challenging and creating a compelling dynamic among the three interesting characters. As the situation doesn’t aggravate any further, the conflict never heightens and the drama remains flat. Good performances cannot exist in a vacuum. When the film is a chamber drama without any reliance on horror or suspense, the greater emphasis resides on the writing which should have gone beyond the fairly outwitting play of dialogues between the Stranger and Buragohain.
The struggle over an odd knife, outlining of the strengths and fault lines of a marriage, the motifs, sub-text, style and substance sits perfectly clear after a point and it is there where the movie should have explored new sub-plots and complications but it profusely refuses and relaxes on the obvious of its moody setting and atmosphere which is technically the perfect re-creation of a weekend getaway under a limited budget. There’s some crafty skill at display in Midnight Song and the screenplay is engrossing enough to set up Arunjit Borah as a director to watch out for.