For a large part of this brief film, nothing seems to be happening. At least, nothing that we can consider dramatic enough to be considered cinematic in the acceptable sense. As I watched Banka's understated dialectic on the dynamics of the diasporic dilemma, I wondered how he convinced his actors to do the film!
If he had gone to, say, Salman Khan to play Ashok Khosla the American-Indian NRI who drifts into Chandigarh to look for suitable match for want of anything better to do in his life, Salman would have cold-stared at the director (who would by then be cringing) and barked, "Iss mein drama kidhar hai?"
That's precisely what Saroavar's sensitivities avoid. As Ashok's train chugs into Chandigarh, Amol Rathod's camera trails him with laconic curiosity. There is no desperation here to hold our attention. The background music is at best serviceable, at worst functional. The sparse material is edited with a lack of vigour, as though the director doesn't want to get ahead of the protagonist's story.
Araam se....that's how we move through Ashok's experiences in Chandigarh. Even when he meets the American gypsy (Lethia Nall) there is no flourish of freedom. For most of the film, the director lets his characters be. Or to rephrase what has famously been uttered by Michael Caine in the week's phenomenal release "Interstellar", the characters in "A Decent Arrangement" go gently into the night.
No raging here, thank you. Another almond biscuit, anyone?
The understated almost casual diasporic dialect of narration is a very interesting tonal experiment for Indian audiences used as they are, to being spoon-fed every aspect of the narration.
The search for a 'suitable match' has haunted generations of displaced Indians. This film gets it so right without seeming to try. Adam Laupus(why an American playing a Punjabi??!!!)expresses the wonderment, bemusement, disbelief and annoyance regarding the rigid small-town values of Punjab in a series of bride-searching adventures so life-like that they don't seem adventures at all.
The performances are uniformly minimalist. Shabana Azmi leads the cast. Playing the hero's somewhat domineering Didi who must find him a match, Shabana merges cultural bemusement and annoyance in equal measures in her performance. She seems to be secretly having the last laugh at the absurdities of the culture of cultural displacement. Laupus is aptly dispassionate. The rest of the actors know what to do.
They are not required to do much. And they do it very effectively. Go gently into the mosquito-ridden night, that is.