In the movie Ranj, a farmer’s son who would rather herd buffaloes is stuck in a dead-end job in Delhi. Amanpreet lives in a small room whose rent he can barely afford, dreams of his fiancee Geetu and periodically clenches his fists in simmering anger.

Amanpreet’s anger finds its outlet in detrimental ways. Director Sunit Sinha’s study of migration, listlessness and ignored urban frustration has as its backdrop the economic and social problems in Punjab that have been triggered by the challenges to the largely agrarian economy. However, Amanpreet’s plight is hardly restricted to the state, the 47-year-old director told “This is also happening with other states in the rest of the country,” Sinha said.

Sinha’s first full-length project – he has previously made short films and directed plays and television shows – has had screenings at festivals in Melbourne, Chicago and Singapore. Ranj will be premiered in India at the Mumbai Film Festival in October. The 80-minute movie is in Punjabi, Hindi and Haryanvi.

Sinha was born and raised in Patna. He based his screenplay on his experiences of small-town life and migration. “Although I have lived in Delhi and Bombay for half my life, you don’t really belong and always feel trapped in a big city,” Sinha observed. “There is always a yearning to go back to a quieter place where you think you belong. My basic idea was of a guy who isn’t doing what he is meant to be doing. My mother used to always say, if your heart is not in your work, how will you do it?”

Ranj (2019). Courtesy Pet Project Films.

For Amanpreet, the inability to belong is exacerbated by his surroundings. Vast portions of the film are set in the maze-like lanes of Chawri Bazar in Delhi. Amanpreet often finds himself alone at night, and as he wanders about the city, it assumes a nightmarish quality that further drives his actions. Cinematographer Bhavpreet Singh enhances Amanpreet’s isolation by shooting on near-empty streets and encasing Amanpreet’s increasingly fraught face in tense close-ups.

Ranj feels emptied out even though it is set in one of India’s biggest and busiest cities. “The character of the city was critical – we needed to shoot the scenes, lanes and backlanes in a way that would reflect the psyche of the character,” Sinha said. “I didn’t want to show Chawri Bazar the way it is usually shown in the film. I find it claustrophobic, and it’s a place you want to get out of. The nights are lonely and scary. The riverside stinks – these are all facts that one cannot ignore. Amanpreet is forced into a space and situation that he doesn’t want to be a part of.”

Among the few islands of hope for Amanpreet is Geetu, to whom he is engaged. The character is played by Ekti Sodhi and modelled on the daughter of a trade union leader who performs street plays in villages, Sinha said.

Ranj (2019). Courtesy Pet Project Films.

Adesh Sidhu too was drawn from among the stage actors with whom Sinha has collaborated. Sinha runs the theatre group Actor Factor in Delhi, and Sidhu worked with Sinha for a few years before moving to London for further training. Sidhu has also worked in the MX Player web series A.I.SHA my Virtual Girlfriend.

“He had to lose weight and be lean, and he worked hard on the role, including spending a few months on a farm in Punjab,” Sinha said about his actor. Sidhu’s commitment to the project is evident in other ways: he has co-produced Ranj, which will be aiming for a theatrical release early next year after its film festival run.