By Laurie Coker
Indian writer/director Ashish Pant explores disparaging class divides in his freshman, full-feature film effort, The Knot (Uljhan). The film, starring Vikas Kumar and Saloni Batra rolls along at a slow burn and digs deeply into the chasm that exists between the haves and have nots. Pant’s is suspenseful, although sometimes poorly paced, drama that reveals gaps within a relationship between a man and his wife after an accident that permanently alters their lives and tests their boundaries. A powerful cast, solid soundtrack, and personal camera angles make for a beautiful, character-driven film that reflects on India’s cast system.
Geeta (Batra) and her husband Shirish (Kumar) live an upper-middle-class life, waiting for their first child and trying to buy a new home, when, on one fateful night, Geeta accidently hits a rickshaw driver. At first Shirish wants her to drive away, but they settle on dropping the man off at the hospital. Soon, however, when approached by relatives of the man, Geeta succumbs to blame and hires his brother Manoj (Nehpal Gautam) as a driver, secretly helping the victim and his family. Her deceit grows out of compassion and guilt and lays in contrast to her husband’s view of how to handle the circumstances.
In spite of the culturally driven setting, The Knot speaks to themes in all cultures and relationships. Pant masterfully guides his characters through extremely personal and often painful situations. Behind the gates and locked doors of their home, Geeta and Shirish can shut out the ugly reality of poverty and carry on, until the reality comes to them. Pant manages an intense sense of claustrophobia that demonstrates just how close the worlds he depicts are and his attention to detail is impeccable. He fine tunes the contrasts between rich and poor, but not just with Geeta and Shirish and their interaction with Manoj. He explores the dealings and expectations in marriage, business, and family and how materialism and desire dictate lives.
From the standpoint of an outsider, The Knot subtly delivers revelations and suggestions about the Indian class structure that beg for additional examination. While the pacing can slow to a crawl at times, the intricate elements – from costuming to lighting – add details that draw views into the lives of its characters. Batra and Kumar are perfect together and in their moving roles. There is an interesting mix of affection and tenseness to their interactions that make their story all the more engaging.
The Knot made its world premiere in the international competition at the 2021 Santa Barbara International Film Festival this week to pleased viewers. The Knot maintains a reserved pace until the end and the intensity is apparent. Brilliantly, Pant chooses to stick more to real-life not overdoing any aspect allowing his characters to react naturally to each encounter. And even in the film’s final moments, we see them as real people. I am placing a B+ in my grade book. It deserves accolades.