Of the five youngsters who headline Dear Friend, four earnestly believe they have cracked the secret code to blissful adulthood. Jannat (Darshana Rajendran) is a junior psychiatrist. Her friends, played by Basil Joseph, Arjun Radhakrishnan, Arjun Lal and Tovino Thomas, have been working on a health start-up for two years. The friends are yet to find a footing in the career of their choice or make peace with their families, but they know the friendship will carry them through thick and thin.
Though, all but one of them knows the true scope of youth. To be young and alive is to refuse to conform and reject conventions. Err and flirt with danger, love and lose it on the way. Create stories and eventually, maybe, become one of those stories.
Directed by Vineeth Kumar and written by Suhas, Sharfu and Arjun Lal, Dear Friend is an urban story steeped in Bangalore, a better Bangalore film than the much-acclaimed Bangalore Days. After a brief tour of the hip side of the city where life resembles one of those curated Instagram pages, the film digs into the upside-down where dreams crash, gangs break apart, and friends metamorphose into strangers, like a formatted computer. But the centrepiece of the film is a fascinating investigation. Do facts always take precedence over feelings?
The film opens with a curious image of a muscular young man getting some dowdy make-up on his face. A thick layer of kohl under his eyes and a coat of lipstick. He is reluctant, but in a few minutes, his friends will drag him out of the house in an ill-fitting Superman costume to paint the city red. Friendship, besides many things, involves an element of submission, a willingness to let the group take over the individual. It is a mighty beautiful sequence, starting like a run-of-mill hangout show, boisterous and funny, and smoothly transitioning to a point rife with tension.
The story gathers momentum when Vinod (Tovino Thomas) disappears one fine morning, leaving a letter of goodbye addressed to the friends. Subsequently, the group gets bombarded with revelations, shocking and heartbreaking, about the lies on which he had founded his persona. They argue amongst themselves on whether to denounce him or not and to find closure, they set out to find his roots.
This investigation, in more ways than one, is reminiscent of the social media paradox. We take to social media to find pleasures that the real world cannot afford to grant us. We create virtual avatars of ourselves, closer to or unrecognizably different from our offline personality, and find a social life. It is easy to dismiss the joy social media delivers as inferior to what one could find in the real world. Countless films have been made on the falsity of the internet life, but is not there a bright side? If one felt happy and inspired, loved and impassioned, does not that count as real?
Bangalore, in the film, is composed of well-furnished living rooms and terraces, crowded bars and cafes, conference halls and monstrous modern structures where the IT sector operates. Outdoors appear but rarely. It is in the tiny indoor spaces, the youngsters invoke the universe. Occasions of merry-making, interestingly, take the shape of séance sessions. For one, Jannat, the glue holding the group together, looks uninhibited and the happiest in the scene where she consumes a little marijuana and falls on her back on a mattress.
Dear Friend looks at modern urban life without the blind pessimism that paints the city as a gutter or a ridiculous optimism that portrays it as a supplier of prosperity and happiness. The narrative proceeds in a neat, linear fashion, never running into a lull or a contrived sense of urgency. Vineeth and his writers create tender, subliminal moments of camaraderie, subtly moving the camera from one character to another, remarkably etching out their personalities. The film benefits hugely from its fantastic cast that never once gives an impression that they are not friends and roommates off-screen. Look at Arjun Lal, who plays a gorgeously subdued man, gulping nervously in front of Jannat’s father (a terrific Jaffar Idukki), Basil Joseph breaking into a happy dance out of the blue or Sanchana Narayanan biting down a heartbreak. Every actor embellishes and shoulders the film in their own rights. Tovino Thomas and Darshana Rajendran, the star actors in the cast, are excellent too, though Thomas, accidentally or not, reduces an enigma into a boring unidimensional swindler in the final scene. That said, not every day does one come across a mainstream film that refuses to spoon-feed the audience at the climax.
It is a curious coincidence that Vineeth Kumar, whose debut film Ayal Njanalla was about a man whose physical resemblance with a superstar actor landed him in problems in a faraway city, made a second film on the duality of human beings. The material evidence regarding Vinod’s life shatters the friends, but what must truly haunt them is the authenticity of the affection he shared with them. Sure, there were lies, but don’t sometimes a pack of lies, say, a pictogram of a hug in a chatbox, appear more real and warm than a sea of people on the street?
This Dear Friend review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.