Despite competent acting and direction, Rukh is mediocre and forgettable.
The first 15 minutes of Atanu Mukherjee’s debut, Rukh, starring Manoj Bajpayee, Adarsh Gourav, and Smita Tambe, are soaked in silence. A horrific tragedy has befallen a family. The breadwinner of the house, Divakar (Bajpayee), has met with an accident, and died. He’s left behind his 18-year-old son, Dhruv (Gourav), and his wife, Nandini (Tambe). Dhruv was in a boarding school at the time of accident. The father and son shared a complicated relationship, marked by unspoken tension and disappointment. Dhruv comes home to cremate his father, and stays back – his mind perpetually wandering elsewhere, constantly trying to grapple with something that’s beyond the scope of comprehension. How do you process a tragedy this huge and unexpected? Maybe you don’t. Maybe just coming to terms with it rips you apart, making you estranged from the very people you should have ideally held on to: your family members. Rukh’s initial segment – quiet, distant, brooding – builds the anticipation for a character driven drama. The film though has plans of its own.
Even after Rukh has established the inciting incident – the death of the father – there’s much in the film that keeps us guessing. We don’t know what kept Divakar occupied and worried in his final days. We don’t know the nature of his work. We don’t know the kind of equation he shared with his friend and business partner, Robin (Kumud Mishra). Besides, much of the film unfolds from the point of view of the 18-year-old Dhruv who is himself coming to terms with his place in the world. A major part of Rukh feels like stretches of adolescence, an endless haze where things make sense in phases, where the itch of responsibility, of doing the right thing, is more misleading than empowering.
As Rukh invites us to unravel its plot details, we understand the thematic question central to the film: How well do we know our family members? Can that knowledge, or the desire to get closer to it, save them? The world, by default a terrifying place, can be even more terrifying for a boy who doesn’t understand what consumed his father. There’s an interesting circularity at play here: Fathers want to protect their children from the world (presumably why Divakar hid his secrets from his son), but that fixation can also backfire, instilling unhealthy curiosity and paranoia in a young mind, the preoccupations that haunt Dhruv.
As a result, Dhruv becomes a sleuth of sorts, getting in touch with Divakar’s peers and underlings, interrogating his past. He finds out that Robin was involved in shady dealings that prompted the CBI to investigate the company, that Divakar opposed his friend’s venality, that the factory’s workers are conflicted about their ultimate decision: whether to side with Divakar, do the right thing, and suffer monetary loss; or side with Robin, dupe the CBI, and make money. That is just the past though; the present has Dhruv’s relationship with his friend, who under financial duress has begun assisting a shady real estate broker; it also features a thorny relationship with his mother who can see her son straying off-track and do nothing about it. But even with different gateways to this world, it’s difficult to ascertain Rukh’s driving force, the pivotal point that binds the film, for quite some time.
Rukh often reveals itself via the events of past, leaving Dhruv to contemplate them in the present. The past has betrayal, disappointment, and fear; the present has regret, confusion and guilt. The past has Dhruv’s father; the present has Dhruv. The past has cover-ups; the present has confessions. The disconnect between the two segments are stark, and the writing fails to bridge that gap. Mukherjee (and editor Sanglap Bhowmick) cut between the two segments with impressive ease, but this structural choice doesn’t make the film particularly poignant or meaningful. For more than the first one-third of the film, we, much like Dhruv, are fumbling in the dark, trying to figure out our way through the meshes of subplots and characters and conflicts. It’s a little disorienting, and not in a good way, not in a way that makes the film intriguing, not in a way that makes its characters and their complexities engaging.
But the most remarkable failings of Rukh are two-fold: its insistence on being a plot-driven drama (when its set-up suggested otherwise), and it ending up telling a largely predictable and tiresome story. In fact, after a point, the characters’ mindscapes vanish, and the film turns into an investigative fare, examining the reasons behind Divakar’s death. It doesn’t really work, for the mechanics of this story – Dhruv talking to different people in his father’s factory, their revelations about the world he knows little about, the resulting sordid picture of greed and betrayal – are fairly generic. Mukherjee’s attempts at injecting pathos into a stale story, buoyed by perfunctory Amit Trivedi songs, fail to work, too. After a point, when the film’s bare bones have been laid out, it starts getting increasingly tedious, trying hard to make an unremarkable story remarkable. It’s held together by competent acting and direction, but these aren’t enough to elevate the film, to prevent it from being mediocre and forgettable.