In one scene in Cobalt Blue, characters discuss the difficult journeys faced by novels and short stories that eventually make it to the screen. Questions about adaptation are likely to be asked about this film too, which writer-director Sachin Kundalkar has based on his own brilliant debut novel.
Published in Marathi in 2006 and translated into English in 2013, Cobalt Blue is the chronicle of a brother and sister who both fall in love with their new tenant. Some of the novel’s sensual imagery, intimate exploration of sexual desire and aching melancholia survive the transition from page to screen.
The film, which is out on Netflix, stars Prateik Babbar as the tenant who upturns the lives of the siblings Tanay (Neelay Mehendale) and Anuja (Anjali Sivaraman). Cobalt Blue is carefully perched on the edge between fantasy and the waking state but not always successfully.
In 1996, a time when same-sex love is not yet legal, and in a touristy corner of Fort Kochi, the college-going Tanay writes poems and mildly flirts with his college professor (Neil Bhoopalam). The picture-perfect setting – emerald backwaters, spice godowns that have been repurposed into art galleries and houses that look like luxurious homestays – gets an extra dash of colour with the arrival of a paying guest.
Heavily sexualised through Tanay’s gaze as well as Vincenzo Condorelli’s camera, this dreamboat without a name, who has stepped out of the pages of a classic romance novel, unleashes Tanay’s imagination.
Cobalt Blue is also about Anuja, Tanay’s tomboyish sibling who prefers hockey to domestic chores. Kundalkar’s novel was divided into his and her sections, with the brother and sister providing their respective perspective of the man who liberates each of them in vastly different ways.
The incompleteness of the sister’s point of view in the novel carries over to the movie adaptation. The episodic nature of Kundalkar’s screenplay, which is primarily in English and Hindi, favours Tanay’s sexual awakening. Anuja’s entanglement with the tenant is as rushed as Tanay’s encounters are languorous.
The uneven and stilted pacing extends to the disposable scenes revolving around Tanay’s parents (Shishir Sharma and Geetanjali Kulkarni) and older brother Aseem (Anant Vijay Joshi). Cobalt Blue is most alive when attending to Tanay’s adolescent passion.
Neelay Mehendale’s delicate characterisation of Tanay and Prateik Babbar’s overt hunkiness create the film’s most memorable moments, which have the vividness of primary colours and the erotic flush of first love.