October Review (SPOILERS): A Love Story?

I’m going to spoil this film, but it is so open to interpretation, you can read my version and go see it and come out with a version all of your own.  So I don’t know if I need to warn you away from this review or not.  If you want to avoid just in case, my No Spoilers review is here.

Whole plot in one paragraph:

Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu are part of a class of trainees in a hospitality program.  They are all upper class educated types, forced to work at menial jobs as they learn the hospitality business from the ground up until they finish their training period and can move on to managerial jobs.  Banita is smart and serious and enjoys her job.  Varun is lazy and entitled and resents having to do menial labor.  He makes fun of her when she gives the right answer in a staff meeting, she complains that he never makes an effort in anything, they are close acquaintances thanks to working together for months but no more than that.  And then one night when Varun is skipping out on training to visit his parents, the trainees have a party and Banita slips and falls off a roof.  Varun returns to learn she is already in the hospital in a coma.  He visits her, and the next day learns that her last words were “Where is Dan [Varun]?”  It bothers him, he visits her again, and slowly starts spending all his free time at the hospital.  Banita’s mother, Gitanjali Rao, is a widow with two other young children.  She starts talking to Varun and leaning on him simply because he is there.  Varun is now skipping so much time that he is at risk of being thrown out of the training program and thereby losing his parents’ security bond they put up before his training started.  His friends (some of whom were closer to Banita than he was before the accident) can’t understand his obsession.  Finally his mother comes when he has been thrown out of the program and asks Gitanjali to let him go and live his own life.  Gitanjali sends Varun away, he takes a job as a manager at a remote small mountain guesthouse.  Months later, he learns that Banita had another seizure and is not doing well in physical therapy.  He comes back to Delhi and helps Gitanjali bring Banita back home.  Banita is still struggling, unable to move more than one arm, unable to speak, working on tasks as simple as grasping a ball.  Varun talks to her and lifts her in and out of bed at night.  He takes her to a part and asks her why she said “where is Dan?” just before she fell.  And in response she struggles to say his name, “Dan”.  He takes her back home, and that night she has another heart attack and dies.  Some months later, Varun goes to visit Gitanjali again.  Varun is back to living in Delhi, managed to finish his training on a second try and is now working at the hotel as a sous chef.  Gitanjali is planning to leave the city, move back to her home in the south.  She asks Varun to take care of the night blooming Jasmine tree in their yard, the same tree Banita was named after, her favorite flower.  Which, like her, only blooms briefly (in October) and then the flowers fall and die.

 

I was just looking for clips and songs to illustrate my last review and what I find fascinating is that the song videos (none of which are in the film) fill in a plot that we do not get within the film itself.  Even the director’s interviews, about “unconditional love” and “honesty and innocence”, give something that is just not clear within the film itself.  Maybe that is an artistic choice, but I think it is an odd one, and possibly a bad one.  If you wanted to tell a love story, then you should tell a love story, make it ever so slightly more obvious what you wanted the audience to know about these characters.  Because the film as it was just wasn’t quite there.  And I don’t like movies that require outside sources in order to make sense.

The interpretation is there, available.  You can believe that all the various little exchanged glances, the moment when Varun changes Banita’s tire and she says “thank you”, the tiny half moments that are what happens when you work in a team with someone, are hiding a bond that hasn’t quite blossomed yet.  That Banita feels something for this lazy complaining boy, and he feels something for the “good girl” in the class.  But you could also believe that they were no more than co-workers.

If they had a bond already, then Varun’s need to take care of her after the accident is the slow blossoming of that half-there feeling.  His devotion, his placing his photo by her bed, his asking her to look left if she knows him, it is all because she is unable to express the thing they both felt, so he has to be there and express it for her.  Her last words before the accident, “where is Dan?” and her last word before death, “Dan”, both express her most deeply felt love.  It is a beautiful story of a love that can exist while receiving almost nothing in return, patiently there until she fully awakes, sure that she will come back to him.  And the ending, his promise to care for the tree that she was named for, the careful way he holds it in the truck, implies that he will keep that fire of love burning.

But the problem is, we so clearly saw that Varun was lost, was unable to feel a purpose or a connection with any task.  And was not immediately concerned for Banita, that is, no more than anyone else would have been.  It was only after he learned she had asked after him, and began to make it about himself, to spin a theory that if he had been there perhaps she wouldn’t have fallen, that he started to be more involved.  And we can see how he blossoms in the hospital setting, enjoying watching everything, paying attention to every small moment and small triumph, feeling a sense of accomplishment.  And feeling a sense of being needed and respected.

There is an alternative interpretation of this film as a dark study of how self-interest can appear like dis-interest.  Varun is a lost man who wants to feel powerful and respected.  He grasps on to the idea of a relationship and a situation he can control utterly, a woman who is just there for him, needing him without making demands on him.  And her family, who are lost and slowly turn to him simply because he is there.  He forces himself into a situation where he has no place and, through his constant presence and the photo of himself he sneaks onto her bed, he worms his way into Banita’s unconscious consciousness.  He is gone for 6 months, she has one attack and he immediately assumes it is because he was gone.  She dies, and he grasps on to the one thing he can continue to hold onto, a Jasmine tree, as unresponsive as she was but all the more satisfying to him because of it.

Or, here’s a third interpretation.  Varun and Banita fall in love post accident.  He never noticed her, but he is noticing her now.  He feels a bond with her, he talks to her, he learns how to read her tiny movements.  She gets to know him because he is always around.  And finally, as she comes more and more back to herself, she misses him.  When he returns, she struggles to say his name, to admit a love she has come to feel over the past several months.

All of these are interesting films and interesting stories.  The problem is, none of them exactly fit what we see onscreen.  If Varun and Banita had an unspoken love before the accident, then why was it only after he learned she asked about him that he became such a regular hospital visitor?  If Banita had feelings for him before, why did she seem so realistically irritated with his lazy behavior at work?  A very slight change to how the film is shown, editing like was used in the music video, would make it clear that their surface disinterest in each other hide something more.  But instead it is just a very realistic vision of two co-workers who don’t like or hate each other, just sort of get along.  Most importantly, what was the point of establishing Varun as someone who never was willing to take responsibility or work at anything and the clear way he came to enjoy feeling needed and in charge at the hospital, little things like telling people when to raise their feet so the cleaner can mop?  If it is truly unrequited love, why establish that particular quirk?

If it is an entirely dark interpretation, Varun inserting himself where he doesn’t belong just because he wants to feel needed, then why would Banita say his name at the end?  There are other moments that are open to interpretation as part of Varun’s obsession with her creating a response when there is none, but that moment has no other possible meaning.  It stands out from the rest of the film, which could be interpreted as a relationship and a love story that is all in Varun’s head just because he needs something like that in his life, but this one moment is confirming that Banita feels something for him.

And if we have the love story that starts after the accident version, that fits the best perhaps.  Two people who knew each other but didn’t notice each other at first, and his faithful presence and close attention does in fact lead to a strange sort of relationship between them.  But again, there are still the things that don’t quite fit.  Varun outside of the hospital is just as weak and needy as before, asking for leave from his job, getting his friends to cover for him, borrowing money from them, and so on.  It’s a love story that changes him, but only within the hospital setting.  And the director’s choice to leave certain things open to interpretation, Banita’s initial lack of response followed by responding to Varun’s questions only when they are alone, it could be (as he sees it) that she is keeping their relationship secret.  Or it could be that he has hallucinated the whole thing.  In the same way, we only learn about a downturn and unhappiness in therapy months and months after Varun has left.  Varun clearly sees it as because he is gone, but we the audience have been given enough information to determine that it could also be simple natural progression of her recovery.

That is what frustrates me about this film, it’s not that the filmmakers put in hints tending towards all 3 interpretations, it’s that they put in hints that reject each of these 3 interpretations in turn.  So, we are left with nothing that makes sense, nothing that quite fits.

Which isn’t to take away from what the film does manage to accomplish.  First and foremost, a realistic view of long term recovery.  Which is a remarkable filmic accomplishment, handling the sweep of the days as they fade into each other, making the audience as familiar with the routine as the characters, and also a remarkable moral accomplishment.  Media has power, and the constant repetition in films of miracle cures and easy recoveries helps to make people believe that is what healthcare and illness is.  Strips funding away from long term care options, makes friends unable to fully understand what a family is going through, unsympathetic with the idea that someone is “still” in the hospital.  This film can help change the understanding, to show that it is not about “and now she is awake!” but rather about slowly relearning skills, hospital bills that never end, a person who is never going to be quite the same person they used to be, day after dreary day of sitting in waiting rooms and hospital rooms.  It’s not all big moments of drama, it’s small moments of patience and managing regular life along with hospital life.  And it can mean losing your job, losing your house, devoting all your energy to just one thing for the rest of your life.  And most of all, there are no guarantees.  No one is ever really “healthy”.  You can use a ventilator, you can work on physical therapy, you can get off the ventilator, but your body is still weaker, a seizure or a stroke could happen at any time.  Recovery isn’t a straight line with a guaranteed ending.  To show that, that is something worth celebrating and a film challenge worth appreciating.

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27 thoughts on “October Review (SPOILERS): A Love Story?

  1. Well, for what it’s worth, this review made me want to see the movie. There is nothing more interesting for me than a film that lets me write part of the story to suit my own imagination. Isn’t that like real life? We never know every one’s thoughts and feelings, their motivations and fears.

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    • Oh wonderful! I always want people to want to see movies and decide for themselves, that’s the main purpose of my review, to make you curious.

      On Sat, Apr 14, 2018 at 11:12 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I think it’s love after the accident for Dan, and I haven’t watched the song videos. Shiuli I think had a crush before but was much more shy than her best friend and her feelings grow deeper as he shows himself to be steadfast. I thought about how Shiuli’s best friend could have been that steadfast suppport for the mother and family but wasn’t. To me it was realistic how some people rise to a crisis and are effected deeply, and others react differently and resume their own lives. Also how that first time a young person experiences someone their own age have a brush with mortality can have deep impact that is different than the death of an elderly relative.

    I think the film is beautiful and subtle, and I loved it. I couldn’t even get through my video review without tearing up over Gitantjali Rao’s performance as the mother. As a mother of a son the same age as Shiuli what she went thru hit me hard, and her relationship with Dan was unique and beautiful too.

    My commenters are telling me it’s flopping at the box office in India. I applaud the filmmakers for making something more subtle and melancholy, but it is not everyone’s taste. I agree with you how skillfully they captured that bubble of the hospital when you are there day after day and become friends with certain nurses and so on. The rest of your world can just fall away.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The good thing is, the bad box office probably isn’t damaging the overall profits much. I’d already heard how it was shot in only a month, and now that I’ve watched it, it’s really jsut a few locations. Assuming Varun did it for free or close to it (likely, considering what I heart was that he was reaching out to Shoojit, not the other way around), I can’t imagine the cost was anything at all. So even a low box office will have no long term effect.

      On Sat, Apr 14, 2018 at 12:22 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Pingback: October Review (SPOILERS): A Love Story? — dontcallitbollywoodvia October Review (SPOILERS): A Love Story? — dontcallitbollywood – Business Startup-Bay Area

    • A quick search can’t find anything official, no Shoojit interview mentioning it or anything. Which is very odd, since “coma romance” is such a specific genre, really just these two films 🙂

      But maybe it’s a coincidence, once you stumble on the idea of a romance with a coma, there aren’t that many other ways it can go.

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        • And The Smith’s song “Girlfriend in A Coma”. This movie is closer to this song than it is to the 3 films above.

          Not much in common with the PA film because this movie doesn’t really delve into the quirkiness of its characters the way that a PA film typically does.

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          • Now I am trying to think, is there a love story in which the man is in the coma?

            On Sun, Apr 15, 2018 at 8:34 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Yes, the Sandra Bullock movie…I think Gallagher falls in a coma. It’s one of those movies where a serious issue is treated with humour. 🙂

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          • Oh, I love that movie! Mostly because it has a ton of Chicago in jokes.

            I assume you have seen Har Dil Jo Pyar Karege, the Hindi remake? If not, you MUST!!!! Because there is a surprise cameo you will enjoy 🙂

            On Sun, Apr 22, 2018 at 7:41 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • No…I read the plot and watched the two parts with ShahRukh (a video from a forum)…and it’s again a woman falling into a coma.

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    • I don’t like to do that because I feel like my reviews are way too in depth to be boiled down to a short video, so much content would be lost that it would be useless.

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  4. I saw this movie last night. I felt really moved, especially by Geetanjali Rao, who felt a little like she was starring in her own movie, stealing every scene she is in.

    To answer the question that the title of this post asks, the official trailer declares, “This is not a love story… This is a story about love.”

    My interpretation of this movie lives between your #2 & #3. A phenomenon called “intimacy of crisis” can develop between people out together by unusual circumstances. The feelings are similar to falling in love. Only once you are out of the crisis can you determine if you are actually in love. If you aren’t, then those feelings disappear quickly. Reality matchmaking shows like The Bachelor employ this phenomenon to manipulate their leads into thinking they are in love, helping them fast forward to engagement, by putting them in circumstances of fear or crisis and having them work together toward resolution.

    These two may or may not have had interests in each other at varying levels prior to the accident. I think if our two leads had been better actors, they would have made it clearer one way or the other. Or perhaps the filmmakers intent was to leave that open to speculation.

    After the accident, I feel that he found some purpose in life by focusing his OCD her. And she found in him someone who gave his time and energy in ways that her BFF did not. They each fulfilled in each other something that the other needed at that moment. Intimacy of Crisis.

    What’s most beautiful about this storyline is that she dies. It’s the most logical and natural and realistic ending. If she had lived, and either recovered or remained in an in between state, they might have really fallen in love, or they might have fallen out of love as the crisis became less of one.

    I’ve noticed in the comments section of online reviews that people are playing “Imagine if had this role instead of Varun Dhawan.” Most often named are Rajkumar Rao and my man Vikrant Massey (I am glad he’s made enough of an impression for ppl to even name check him). I’m quietly mourning the movie that never got made with one of these better actors.
    To her credit as a first time actor, Banita is quite good at portraying someone in a coma, then someone going through slow recovery. I’m wondering why they had to get someone from the UK for this role when there are so many talented native Indian women pounding the acting pavement in Mumbai.
    I recently saw Badrinath Ki Dulhania, and I thought Varun fused with that character far better. He’s just really good at the small town nice but entitled guy (the misogynist who doesn’t realize that he is one). He’s not as good as the big city metropolitan equivalent.

    I’ve seen the song videos and trailers, and IMO they don’t tell a separate story from the film. The only thing significant is the two leads sitting on a log in Manali. I took that as his imagination or dream.

    Can you list links to the interviews with the director and writer that you reference in your article?

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    • I think this is the Sircar interview I saw:

      https://scroll.in/reel/872002/shoojit-sircar-on-october-we-always-talk-about-unconditional-love-but-what-is-it-really

      Really love your interpretation! That makes so much sense, and fits in with the beautiful feeling of in between that is evoked in the hospital scenes. I think it also makes sense of that final moment, for me. Her saying his name was an implication that they could actually be starting something real. And then it ends before it can begin. And that’s the importance of his coming back after he leaves. He could have gone away and discovered that he never thought about her again once he was out of that bubble. But instead he comes back months later, having really missed her. And the recovery period then, when she is beginning to come back into the world, that is when they move towards beginning to come to some kind of actual connection, in the little things like teasing her for not being able to write a “Q”.

      On Sun, Apr 15, 2018 at 9:12 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Minor point… You have tagged this post as Bonita Sandhu, but her name is Banita Sandhu (a not o). Honest mistake since Bonita being a Hispanic name is more familiar in the West than Banita, which even among South Asians is not that common a name.

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  6. Just came home from seeing October. First, you said, “And then one night when Varun is skipping out on training to visit his parents, the trainees have a party ” this is an important mistake. We don’t know where he was and when his mother finally comes she says we haven’t seen you for 10 months which is too far back from New Year’s. This matters because we never find out if he is estranged from his family or just looking for a new family who has no baggage with him. He isn’t really spoiled since he clearly doesn’t have much extra money but he is looking for purpose and finds it among strangers.
    I think the songs (which I deliberately did NOT watch before I saw the film) are very misleading. They make it look like they are together in places they are NEVER together. There is NO budding love story. They barely look at each other and he is mildly annoying to her. Why he does all this is very unclear, but okay, that’s fine. But I have other complaints.
    Its very very derivative of many ‘coma’ films. ‘There is one with Sandra Bullock “While you were sleeping” has a man in a coma.
    Anyway, as a lover of Hindi cinema, it kills me when copies of mediocre western films get great reviews from people like Anupama.

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    • Good catch! Wow, that is a big thing. We see him ask for leave for an anniversary party and be refused, and then he isn’t at the staff party on that same night. But you are right, his mother says 10 months which would be too long. And his father is apparently an Army officer in Kashmir, I can’t imagine he could get all the way to Kashmir and back without anyone noticing besides missing a party. It would be a day and a half I imagine at least to get there and be at the party and come back.

      Plus, later he asks for leave because his father is sick, but that is never picked up again, which implies it was a lie so he could get more time at the hospital. So maybe everything is a lie? The film leaves it open, we see him being very sincere in all these scenes but at least some of them he is lying.

      I like your point about looking for a new family with no baggage. Because he does the same thing with his friends and his job. His roommate is sick of putting up with him right at the time that he starts clinging to the hospital setting instead of being home as much. And when his supervisor starts getting tired of putting up with him, he starts dreaming of starting his own restaurant instead. Maybe that’s the important part? He never gives up or gets tired of dealing with Banita? Even when he has a chance to go away and find something new to obsess over?

      And I am glad you agree with me about the songs, somehow the feel of them made it look like stolen glances and hidden love and stuff, while in context his interactions with Banita and vice versa seemed no different from how they were with any other of the staff around them.

      I am willing to be a little more forgiving of good reviews for this film, because I really did like some parts, but I know what you mean. Sometimes it feels films are getting good reviews just because they are different from the usual “Indian” movie, but different doesn’t always mean better.

      On Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 2:53 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. I watched this movie last night and man that’s one confusing movie.I kinda lean towards your interpretation #2.It really felt like Dan was a loafer who suddenly found another excuse to get away from work & generally not do anything productive.When her mother & immediate family could go back to work/studies,do their daily chores and then return to hospital to take care of her,what is Dan’s excuse of not going about doing what is required to make a living?I didn’t even care much for the motivations of his character and what the film was trying to say about their relationship.To me,the horror & sadness of a young girl who life & dreams are suddenly crushed & her family’s anguish of dealing with it takes precedence over whatever love-but-not-love-story mishmash the film was trying to sell.Having undergone a similar(but not quite so unhopefull)stay post a heart surgery for my 4 month old son,I could relive the hospital smell,the sound of equipments & the endless wait.Her mother’s strength,with no one to even lean on & her young siblings’ maturity in dealing with the crisis was so hearbreaking.I also liked the fact that they showed the hospital staff & doctors as kind,empathetic people who is so invested in getting her well.
    Varun Dhawan was so miscast in this role.I got a sense that the character was built around his persona and which is why Dan appears so unlikeable?Also his voice & dialogue delivery is so grating.That was my issue with him in Badlapur also.In an otherwise okay performance,the voice & the way he says it monotonously ruins the whole mood & I am reminded im watching Varun Dhawan still.

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    • Glad I am not the only one who didn’t see the love story! Whether it was an accident or on purpose, his performance just felt like a whiney spoiled brat who was looking for a way to get out of work without looking like he was getting out of work.

      On Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 12:06 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  8. Pingback: October – A Poignant Tale Of An Unusual Relationship – Tales'n'Tunes

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