Reviews Short Narrative

Tilted (2021) – 1.5 stars

Director: Sudipta Chakraborty

Writer: Sudipta Chakraborty

Cast: Abhijit Chatterjee, Agniv Chatterjee, Siddhartha Bhattacharjee

Running time: 5mins

I have long since learned to be distrusting of any grown man with a framed poster of Heath Ledger’s Joker. More often than not, they’re the kind of fedora-wearing libertarian who sees a corrupt and unjust world, and says, “Yes, but what if we could make everything slightly worse?”

It would be wrong of me to suggest Sudipta Chakraborty is this kind of person – but the film they have served up is definitely in this vein. It is a familiar, unchallenging fable, but delivered at a marginally lower standard.

The bulk of the action takes place in the living room (adorned with the mentioned Joker portrait) of characters named simply Dad and Son (Abhijit Chatterjee and Agniv Chatterjee – presumably a real father-son duo), as they laze about while generally getting on each other’s nerves. The pair have the necessary chemistry to pull off the familiar bickering-act that a son living with his father into adulthood tends to develop into, but Chakraborty’s script does little to tease it out of them. They might have the ability to pull off Steptoe and Son levels of resentful antagonism – but we will never know, because they launch right into their key dispute: whether or not picture frames are hanging straight.

OK, we know what kind of parable this is now. This is an ‘all about your point of view’ story. Dad is quite a bit shorter than Son, so from where they are standing, the frames appear at different angles. It is the kind of tale your teacher would have spun you in the thought-for-the-day segment of middle-school assembly.

Unfortunately, our familiarity with this kind of story means it needs some sprucing up to be worth re-telling at all. Ironically for a film which opens with a Lucida Handwriting boast of being ‘thoughtfully entertaining’, there does not seem to be the thought put into it to make good on that promise. Not least, this is illustrated by the equally ironic note that in the film named Tilted, the cinematography is universally straight. A few quirky angles would not have gone amiss for a start, and save some nice close-up work of the actors gazing confusedly at paintings, the film misfires on this front.

As lacking in creativity as the photography may be, though, the music is somehow worse. An insufferable piece of plinking, plonking, stock music meanders its way through almost the whole move; clobbering us around the ears, insisting what we are seeing is in fact a jaunty consideration of perspective – and not in fact a young man trying to gaslight his father into residential care. Returning again to the script, without further examples of friction between Dad and Son, this is what their tiff ultimately resembles.

Their only two interactions are Son noticing Dad re-adjusting a clock and a painting, which he believes are wonky. At the second instance, Son erupts angrily that he can’t do this anymore, and that Dad needs to get his head checked out. The next scene, we cut to a confused Doctor (Siddhartha Bhattacharjee), stating there is nothing wrong with Dad, while Son insists that they do further tests on his mental capacity.

He comes across as belligerent, charmless, and determined to see Dad declared deficient in any way possible. Such an impression might have been challenged by the film’s conclusion – had it not been rushed through so sloppily. Doctor, the wise figure of reason here, seems to understand the issue and sets a test. Two pens, each angled toward one of the men sitting opposite. Which one is tilted?

The answer, of course, is that it is a matter of perspective – depending on where you are sitting, one pen will be facing you straight on, and one will be pointed away. Both men fail to see this, however, and continue to argue their case – the son in particular crowing in victory that his father has picked the wonky pen.

At this point, you would expect Doctor to chime in with some measured advice. It’s all subjective – and you need to have more tolerance for opinions different than your own, because a great many ‘truths’ are not cast-iron facts, but matters of perspective. You would then expect – if this isn’t about Son forcing Dad into care – that he would admit his shortcomings, and apologise.

Neither of these things happen, though – even confronted with this logical test that would be simple enough to explain plurality of opinions to a child, he continues hectoring Dad for making the wrong choice. Then the screen freezes, and text tells us “It all depends on your vision”. But without seeing how this plays into the plot, how are we supposed to take this information? As it is, it seems that Son understands this very well – as a great many members of the commentariat also do – and is simply choosing to ignore it.

Even if he did have an arc, Son hasn’t had enough time to build a relationship with us anyway. He nor Dad have the chance to exhibit any relatable traits that would see us invest in them – and learn vicariously with them. That completely blunts the ability of the film to transmit any message at all.

Stories where the protagonists learn to relate to different stand-points abound throughout human history. There are thousands of odd-couple stories which take more creative and relatable approaches to the lesson. Tilted fails to add any original angles of its own to this catalogue – and for that reason, it would take someone with an extremely rare and stunted perspective to find its botched teachings any use at all.

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