Reviews Short Narrative

Triyaka (2023) – 1.5 stars

Director: Sudipta Chakraborty

Writer: Sudipta Chakraborty

Cast: Prem Saini, Susmit Chakraborty & Abhijit Chatterjee

Running time: 6mins

The trailer of Sudipta Chakraborty’s Triyaka [Three Persons] commences with a quote from spiritualist Michael Newton, which does not appear in the actual film. It is unclear why the paragraph which begins, “We are Divine but imperfect beings who exist in two worlds: material and spiritual…” has been left on the cutting room floor. Whether or not the source might have led the director to have to face snarky questions on whether he really believes in Newton’s hokum about regressing to ‘past lives’ via hypnosis, the quote would have at least pointed us in the direction his overall production was actually aiming.

Sudipta Chakraborty, who you may remember from 2022’s stilted fable Tilted, apparently wanted to make a story in which a single “metaphysical state” (let’s just say Spirit to save time) travels through three unsuspecting physical forms. At certain points, however, the film’s vague and under-developed delivery accidentally alludes to several scenarios which would have been more disturbing than this alleged horror actually ends up delivering.

The narrative – which again sees Chakraborty peculiarly refuse to name any of his characters – follows The Young Man (Prem Saini) through an unnerving set of encounters with a giggling child. The Boy (Susmit Chakraborty) is sitting alone on a park bench, as The Young Man puffs past him on his daily jog – and immediately bursts into laughter at the sight of it. While you might think the social implications would mean most lone, grown men would prefer not to initiate a conversation with someone else’s kid at the park, The Young(ish) Man – complete with five-o’clock-shadow and black beany hat – is apparently undeterred by looking like his name is on a certain register.

The Young Man immediately leans menacingly over the youngster, demanding he explain what is so funny. The child eventually concedes that he was guffawing at the athletic struggles of his senior counterpart – and is told “don’t you ever mess with me again” in an ominous tone. Later, at The Young Man’s darkened apartment, those words come back to haunt him – albeit not in the way I was expecting after this opening scene…

The house is moodily lit, making the most of the long shadows throughout the place – even if the colour-grading ultimately has rendered everything a sad, pallid grey. In this murky space, strange noises alert The Young Man to an uninvited presence, somewhere in his home. After a minute of searching through his deserted house to a score lifted from a Blumhouse movie, the only other person appears to be Heath Ledger’s Joker – making another posthumous cameo in Sudipta Chakraborty’s films, all of which he presumably films in his own living room – who looms over the scene from a The Dark Knight promotional poster. While the film is clearly trying to ratchet up tension, the mise-en-scène of a comic book nerd’s bedroom is not especially threatening – undermining the intended effect somewhat.

Just as he is about to give up search, The Young Man finally notices that there is a shadowy figure, sitting in his seat by the window. Unsurprisingly, as he moves closer, he finds that the giggling spectre is in fact The Boy from the park. Saini – whose face is tellingly etched with the panicked confusion of a long-suffering friend pestered into ‘acting’ in a short film as a favour to a cash-strapped director – struggles to take his befuddlement to another level here, with a very non-committal “Heh?”, before The Boy chillingly suggests that this “poor soul” is “always thinking about me.”

The fact The Young Man immediately stumbles to his dimly lit laptop in another room, coupled with his earlier willingness to start conversations with lone children at the park, seems to suggest the film is turning down a very dark path. If the film were to be intentionally telling the story about a vengeful spirit, tormenting a predator to hold him accountable for his crimes, that would have been an effective – if horrific – story, rooted in the grimmest corners of our reality. The problem is that any such connotation seems to be entirely accidental, leaving the results feeling even grimmer for their naïve (or, less generously, tone-deaf) handling of the on-screen interactions here.

Instead, The Boy disappears, and The Young Man takes his place in the seat – hunching up, hugging his knees in the same way the child had been moments before. In the next scene, we see him sitting alone on the bench, laughing at another jogger, (Abhijit Chatterjee’s unflatteringly-named The Elder Man). For a different set of reasons, The Elder Man might have wanted to give a lone man cackling at him from the bench of a deserted park a wide berth – but he unflinchingly goes to chastise him instead, and the film ends.

Again, though, it feels like the director has accidentally hinted at a more relevant story than he has delivered. My initial reaction – an inescapable materialist as I am – was to place this in some kind of real-world narrative about The Young Man having a dissociative identity disorder. Perhaps it manifested from some childhood trauma, meaning his inner-child continues to hold a destructive power over his adult life. But reverting to the Michael Newton quote from the trailer, and the description sent to Indy Film Library with the film, that patently was not Sudipta Chakraborty’s aim. This is supposed to be some other consciousness effectively ‘possessing’ three different individuals, to no particular end.

That is not something most people are programmed to expect, so the story needs something in the way of exposition – visual or verbal – which steers us in that direction. Why would this force be doing this? What are the consequences of it? What happens to these peoples’ bodies after the other-worldly being has moved on from them? While answering these questions would not make this review a 5-star, it would certainly elevate the film into a more intelligible and engaging piece of storytelling.

As to why that quote from Michael Newton was removed, perhaps Sudipta Chakraborty realised suggesting “we are Divine but imperfect beings” was too much of an open goal for critics. After all, while traces of divinity are few and far between in Triyaka, there is plenty of imperfection on display.

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