In Binnu ka Sapna, an Indian man comes face to face with his toxic masculinity - Hindustan Times
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Short Stream | In Binnu ka Sapna, an Indian man comes face to face with his toxic masculinity

Jan 17, 2024 11:44 PM IST

Kanu Behl’s award-winning short film is a meditation on the lessons men learn as children watching their angry fathers and placatory mothers.

In 2010, straight out of the Satyajit Ray Film Institute (SRFTI) Kolkata, Kanu Behl wrote Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (2010), a film directed by Dibakar Banerjee. But it was in 2014 that Behl broke out into Mumbai’s filmmaking scene with a quietly articulate hold on human interiority in 2014 with Titli, where his canvas was a violent, melancholic and all-male world — the characters, two brothers on the outskirts of Delhi, in a violent chokehold of physical, emotional and economic derangement, fuelled the drama. Delhi, expanding inequitably and dissonantly into the North Indian hinterland accentuated the grating disintegration of the seemingly 30-something brothers. Women made awkward, unsafe appearances in the story—and left. His debut feature film premiered at the Cannes Un Certain Regard section.

Kanu Behl behind the camera with lead actor Chetan Sharma, who plays the eponymous Binnu, sitting on a scooter in a behind-the-scenes shot during the filming of Binnu ka Sapna(Author) PREMIUM
Kanu Behl behind the camera with lead actor Chetan Sharma, who plays the eponymous Binnu, sitting on a scooter in a behind-the-scenes shot during the filming of Binnu ka Sapna(Author)

In Binnu ka Sapna, Behl visits this theme again — patriarchy, as visible to the acute eye and mind in middle-class India — with a fresh new language. The 32-minute short which came out in 2018 had a limited run of two months on international streaming platform MUBI and wasn’t released in theatres. It travelled to various festivals, including the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2019, where it won the Best Short Film.

In this film, Behl’s gaze on patriarchy is chiselled into a meditative language. “The idea (for Binnu ka Sapna) germinated post-Titli, first when TTT [the producers, Terribly Tiny Tales, a Mumbai-based production company] expressed a desire to collaborate with me on a short film. And I started thinking about how I could push the narrative forward in terms of short form. I was interested in anger as an emotion, as I felt I was not fully able to explore it in Titli. So I started toying with the idea of looking at the anger of a protagonist from the inside. Being able to say it exactly as the protagonist would be feeling it.”

The first aesthetic decision Behl took was to have a dialogue-less film. “The idea was to fully immerse yourself in the thoughts of this protagonist who was pretty much an antagonist.”

A still from the film, Binnu ka Sapna (Author)
A still from the film, Binnu ka Sapna (Author)

Binnu's story

We meet the eponymous Binnu, played by Chetan Sharma, as he steps out of his village home to make a life in the big city. Binnu narrates recollections of his childhood, of his angry father and an accommodating, hopeful mother, forced to surrender her desires. A rancid, violent memory plays in his head, and he tries to make sense of his new life despite his limiting self-esteem, especially when it comes to interacting with women. The ritual of tea-making represents to him love and a shot at redemption.

The film covers many grounds — the contortion of desire, ambition, disappointment — and how the forever-expanding urban cosmos affects and shapes the young. Binnu ka Sapna is incisive about middle-class youth and their inability to cope with love, sex and hope. Unlike Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s 2023 multi-crore Ranbir Kapoor-starrer, Animal, Binnu plumbs into how patriarchal wounds play out in a man’s life — in spirit, the film is mellow and far less gimmicky. Behl’s fascination with the mindset of a young urban man intent on the destruction of both his own and another’s life is evident. His latest film, Agra, which also screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year, has similar underpinnings.

“I found the idea of doing a silent, voiceover-driven film both compelling and challenging. It took me about three months to write the 12-page script and then another two months to prepare for Binnu,” Behl said.

The film was shot over 34 locations in eight days by a crew of 30 people on a “small” budget. “We ran around the city practically every day, sometimes shooting as many as five different set-ups in a day, braving difficult weather — half a day lost to rain — amongst other challenges,” Behl recalled.

Kanu Behl chose the 1:1 aspect ratio to complement Binnu’s severely myopic vision. “We were very aware of the thin line presented to the audience with a film like this and never wanted to justify his dastardly actions. “The combination of the still frames with the square aspect ratio was our attempt to glue his headspace into the film. He was obviously not a clear-headed man and tended to freeze moments in his life and convince himself of certain absolute truths,” Behl said.

This, combined with the eerie, drone-like sound design was Behl’s way of plugging into the dangerous chaos inside Binnu’s head. Does Binnu get a shot at redemption he seeks? Watch the film to find out.

Short Stream, curated by film journalist Sanjukta Sharma, will present an independent short film that is making a buzz in film festivals.

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