Berlin - Film Review: Birmingham Indian Film Festival

Berlin - Film Review: Birmingham Indian Film Festival


Posted 2023-10-27 by dpmfollow

Thu 26 Oct 2023

Birmingham Indian Film Festival started with a bang with the opening gala featuring the European premiere of spy thriller Berlin.

Written and directed by Atul Sabharwal, the film takes us back to the early 90s, when Delhi sign language teacher Pushkin Verma (Aparshakti Khurana) is forced to interrogate deaf waiter Ashok Kumar (Ishwak Singh) who has been accused of spying.

At a time when the Berlin Wall has fallen and the Cold War had seemingly come to an end, the security services are on heightened alert ahead of a visit by Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. And the stakes are high on an investigation which, it soon becomes clear, is about so much more than one potential spy.

As different government bodies vie for supremacy, deadly games are being played and the lives of both Verma and Kumar are on the line.

Khurana, who joined the gala at Midlands Arts Centre and took part in a post-screening Q&A, gives us a Verma who is thrown into a world he doesn’t understand. One morning he is teaching a class of deaf children and the next he is locked into an interrogation room attempting to discover the truth from a seemingly innocent waiter at the Berlin café in Delhi. But Verma quickly realizes the truth is a slippery concept in the world of espionage.

Singh is thoroughly convincing as the deaf Kumar who shares his story with Verma through a series of flashbacks – which show not only his life journey but also the daily discrimination he has faced as a deaf man.

The interrogation scenes between the two, which are carried out in Indian Sign Language, are super-charged with energy and empathy. Encased in a separate room where they are watched and listened to, the two men create a private dialogue in which they can communicate through much more than the words being shared.

Rahul Bose plays the ruthless puppet master who seemingly holds the cards with a steely calm which means we all know that Verma and Kumar are tiny pawns in a much bigger game.

Sabharwal’s plot twists and turns ensuring that just as we think we know what is really happening, we are wrong-footed by another development we didn’t see coming. Like a tightly wound spool of thread, it gradually lets out an inch at a time and we follow with our brains racking as we attempt to work out where the plot is heading.

The film recalls the dark and cynical world of espionage made famous by writer John Le Carré in which everyone is double-crossing everyone else, lives are expendable and nobody is who you think they are. In Hindi with English surtitles, the two-hour movie leaves us guessing right up to the end.

The screening was followed by a BSL-interpreted Q&A with Khurana hosted by BIFF head Dharmesh Rajput exploring diversity in filmmaking.

BIFF continues until 3 November, for more on the festival see the Weekend Notes feature [LINK] and here.


267328 - 2023-10-27 07:35:47


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