LORNI- THE FLANEUR

Adil Hussain and Dawiat Syiem in a still
  • Release Date: 02/09/2022
  • Platform: Sony Liv
  • Cast: Adil Hussain, Dawiat Syiem, Elizer Bareh
  • Director: Wanphrang K Diengdoh

A psychedelic dive into a fascinating culture using a tormented soul looking for redemption

— Ambar Chatterjee

Shem (Adil Hussain) is a private investigator in the town of Shillong. He is dealing with a horrific incident from his past that constantly plays on his subconscious mind but has not taken away anything from his inquisitive nature and keen eye for details. Sadly, all these attributes haven’t made him successful in the career that he has chosen for himself after apparently failing in other career choices. Things take an interesting turn for Shem when he meets Esther (Dawiat Syiem) who hires him for her mother to track down a thief who stole valuables from their home. As Shem tries to follow multiple leads to track down the thief, more robberies happen that point to something strange taking place in a town that was born out of mythical legends and is still engulfed in the pristine beauty and dangers that come with being a town from fairy tales. 

Lorni – The Flaneur is a kind of film that demands your attention in every frame. I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I did, had it not enveloped my senses with its storytelling, visuals, and constantly engaging performances. If you look at it superficially, there isn’t a lot happening here but hidden among the ordinary is a series of events, sequences, dialogues, and nuances that deal with a plethora of issues that are relevant to modern Khasi life and the various external influences on it. Some of these issues have to do with the dynamics of the modern Khasi society while certain aspects of it point us to the inception of the Khasi society, its beliefs, and how its mystical past still holds sway over the people even though they have come a long way from the way of life, values, rituals, and beliefs of their ancestors.

I liked the film for the simple reason that it was able to tie in all its messages and subtle nuances pointing to the different aspects of the Khasi society and its relevance in modern times through an interesting and investing story. The story successfully incorporates all the three key ingredients that make a successful mystery-drama film. Who did it? How he did it? Why he did it? Using the robberies as the plot point, the tale moves forward. At each juncture, we are introduced to a different aspect of Khasi life unfolding in the city of Shillong as our protagonist, Shem investigates the robberies and spends his time looking, listening, and experiencing. I love the fact that the film doesn’t withhold information from its audiences. It’s all out there for the audiences to see but it is all designed in such a mysterious manner that most audiences, (myself included) will miss the visual cues until the very end when the entire plot is revealed.   

Adil Hussain in a still

This film wouldn’t be as impactful for people who haven’t stayed in Shillong and have no idea of the Khasi life and legends. People from the other states will look at the film as a window into the lives of the Khasi people. They may also use it to understand and appreciate a culture that they have very little idea about. However, for someone like me, who has spent considerable time in Shillong, the film meant a lot more than just a document of a society that is losing itself to the changing times. I have been through the shady lanes of Iewduh. I got stuck in the traffic of Police Bazar. I have feasted on the sweets of Delhi Mishtana Bhandar. I have bought peanuts from roadside vendors in Laitumkhrah. I have smelled the dark lanes of questionable localities that Shem is shown walking around. I walked up and down the uneven roads and drank tea in stalls that were barely high enough for me to sit straight. I have seen people exchange kwai as pleasantries and know the legend behind the practice. I have enjoyed the black tea from kettles in different offices complemented with rice cakes served by girls wearing traditional attire.

Thus, every scene and action in Lorni- The Flaneur appealed to me at a different level. I was able to connect with the character of Shem and his predicament at a level that will not be easy for others to connect on. The city of Shillong, which is as much a character as any other in the film also appealed to me in every frame. 

The cinematographer has done an outstanding job of capturing the city in its organic flow and vitality. It wouldn’t have been the best approach to capture Shillong using glamorous angles and flattering views. Instead, the cinematographer is able to capture the city at junctures when the city puts its guard down and bares its true self. Seen through the eyes of Shem, someone who has lived and seen the city for its true self, the knowledge, and understanding of Shem of Shillong is successfully transposed to visual representations of those aspects of the city, people, emotions, and voyeuristic looks on the people and their inner workings. This is one of the great strengths of the film.

Adil Hussain is one of the best actors in this region and he proves yet again why he is so beloved. As Shem, he not only brings to the fore the vulnerabilities of the character but is also able to wonderfully portray the duality of the character and also its inherent desire to break free from the feeling of guilt that has taken control of his subconscious mind. How does he go about doing that? By engaging himself in his work. By giving up something that was at the root of his tragedy. By trying to find solace in the company of someone that he has just met. In each of these actions, we see his reservations. We see him deal with himself as he was the teacher and the student at the same time. These subtle nuances are so beautifully realized by Hussain that they make the character of Shem even more endearing and interesting. By achieving that, he also ensures that we are interested in Shem’s story and are hooked to see how it ends.

Adil Hussain in a still

Dawiat Syiem is exotic, and I say this not because of how she looks but because of the aura and the impact that her character has on the film and the character of Shem. Every time, she appeared on screen, my attention was transfixed on her, and this was strange since she was sharing the screen with the great Adil Hussain. She was so good in her rendition that I nearly forgot the fact that her character was not written as well as I would have liked it to be. While I have to agree that women are an ocean of surprises and conjectures and not even Gods could decipher them, there were aspects to the character of Esther that were too flimsy to be accepted even with the suspension of disbelief that is necessary for a surrealistic realization of an idea that is ideated from folktales. However, her immersive performance won’t let you feel a thing as long as the film ends and even after that, you will be more than ok to be ok with the way her character went. This was the strength of Syiem’s essay and for that one needs to congratulate her.

Unlike other art house films, Lorni-The Flaneur is not a chore to watch. It is breezy, entertaining, has wonderful music, terrific performances, and a coherent and explicable story. Even if you don’t get its deeper meaning and themes, it will still end up being an entertaining watch for anyone willing to be attentive. I would have loved to watch this film on a big screen as its visual representation adds so much more to the overall tale. I never ask my readers to support regional cinema for the sake of supporting regional cinema. I only urge them to support good regional cinema. Lorni is one such film. Watch it on Sony Liv and support the makers who have done a fantastic job of creating an immersive and surreal experience that is our own and none can enjoy it the way we can.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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