by Lee Hazell
Calcutta Taxi is a story that takes place on a day of political protest from the perspective of three different citizens. One passenger and two drivers; one outsider, one orphan and one debilitated. Each of whom has a problem that the other has the solution to. We follow them on this fateful day and discover the kindness and forgiveness of strangers.
The first is a Canadian student visiting the city on a student visa. He gets the dominoes falling when he hails a cab to get him across the city during a political protest. The driver shoots off with his bag but not him, so he has no choice but to jump in another taxi. The driver who takes him across the city only does so for the perceived reward he believes will be bestowed upon him. The final character, a younger taxi driver (the stand out sequence) has a secret that puts all the events into perspective.
It’s a densely layered film, every scene has some thematic meaning, many of them have more than one. It’s also ruthlessly cut leaving no time to breathe between sequences or reflect upon what we have witnessed. It has no patience for those unwilling to keep up and even if you are paying attention the film still demands multiple viewings. The goal of the film is to get you to think and in that grand tradition it raises more questions than it answers. You will want to give it a third or fourth watch and each time come away with a different set of queries. Its excellently thought provoking and refreshingly intolerant of those just viewing the film with a casual interest.
The film has a great sense of place. You always feel like the stories going on are part of something bigger, constantly aware there’s a whole cities worth of tales here, not just the ones in the film. The music and editing have a sense of urgency that compliments the hustle and bustle of the day, but it’s a shame the actors have a hard time communicating that intensity. The student has a youthful charm that works for him as a boy discovering Calcutta, but as a person caught up in a political protest he struggles to convey the gravity of the situation.
This is true for all the actors. The film works best when doing character work. The back stories of each character are excellent sequences. The student doesn’t really fit in with the city but neither do we and this only increases our empathy for him. The old taxi driver is engaging in his worldliness, so when his hopes are crushed so our ours and his lesson becomes ours too. The young driver is so endearingly socially awkward you feel every inch of his plight. They are all cast to fit into these lives and they only fail to work once they are taken of normality and into situations more extraordinary.
Calcutta Taxi is all about drivers and passengers as the vessels in which wisdom travels. All three lives are defined by companionship and travel. They have crossed seas, continents, streets and cities. They have all pick up life lessons, they travel around with them until they can pass them on, enriching someone else’s life as their lives have been enriched. So let me pass on some wisdom to you. Go watch Calcutta Taxi.