Dir: Shoojit Sircar. With: Banita Sandhu, Varun Dhawan, Gitanjali Rao, Sahil Vedoliyaa. 115 mins. Cert: 12A
Director Shoojit Sircar doubtless spent many hours in plush four-star hotels promoting 2015’s intriguingly low-key Piku, and the experience has inspired a film that initially threatens to be a near-Rossellinian departure for the Indian mainstream. For once, the focus isn’t on those jetsetters swanking around rooftop pools, but the youngsters cleaning up after them for a minimal wage and scant health benefits. That last detail proves significant, given that October interrupts its careful survey of the Radisson New Delhi’s intern program when the dedicated Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) tumbles from a balcony, leaving her heavily brain-damaged.
What follows, however, is a sometimes shaky, perilously one-sided romance, pitched between sombre Big Sick and full-on weepie. As the moody, irresponsible Danish (Varun Dhawan) steps up, scattering night jasmine blossoms around Intensive Care in a bid to rouse his colleague from her vegetative state, there’s a whiff of Nicholas Sparksness – take this as recommendation or warning, depending on personal taste. Either way, Sircar’s regular screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi has to work overtime to try and persuade us why the once-erratic Dan should have started playing Doogie Howser, beyond the general sentiment it might be a nice thing to do for a girl.
Matters are steadied, just, by Sircar’s quiet sensitivity towards tiny signs of life. Welsh-born Sandhu is the obvious beneficiary – not least when the film provides a welcome explanation of how the comatose Shiuli’s brows remain so on point – though the attentiveness may also enshrine Dhawan as Hindi cinema’s most Goslingesque pin-up. The course change Sircar proposes for that cinema remains honourable, and if October feels more tentative than Piku, which had those rock-solid star turns to ground it, its emotion is at the last earned honestly: any structural wobbles will likely be nothing compared to the audience’s lower lips come the finale.
October opens in cinemas nationwide today.