Kerala earned praise for its early handing of the Covid-19 pandemic in India. The state has proven itself to be ahead of the curve in another contagion-related crisis – how to make a movie during a lockdown, even as the coronavirus surges through India.
Mahesh Narayanan’s rivetting C U Soon is perfectly suited for a time in which entertainment has shrunk itself to fit the mobile, the laptop screen, and the smart television set. The action in the digital-forensic thriller unfolds entirely through cellphones and computers. Characters in different countries and time zones converse, form deep connections, and arrive at life-altering truths through messages, phone calls and video chats. Blinded by the glare of the screen, a young man rushes into a relationship. Another man, empowered by his screen, plays Sherlock and unravels a mystery without leaving his desk.
Sharjah-based banker Jimmy (Roshan Mathew) has experienced the modern equivalent of love at first sight with a woman he has met only the previous week on a dating platform. On the basis of a series of texts and video calls, Jimmy wants to marry Anu (Darshana Rajendran). Is Jimmy empty in the upper reaches or a creature of his device-dominated environment? Both, as Narayan’s screenplay reveals.
There have been flimsier reasons for hook-ups. Entire movies have been constructed on the mere sighting of a photograph of the future beloved. But something’s not quite right with Anu. Jimmy asks his cousin Kevin (Fahadh Faasil) to conduct a background check. The matter assumes some urgency when Anu shows off bruises during a video call. Kevin’s investigation, aided by hacking and assiduous online searches, burrows through cached information, text messages and videos.
The film’s form is inseparable from its plot – a feat that Narayanan and cinematographer Sabin Uralikandy carry off without being gimmicky. The markers of identity in an age of social networking platforms – cute photos, chirpy status updates – prove to be deceptive. Oversharing is most definitely overrated.
The message flows from the very medium itself: the three dots that pop on a screen while a text message is being typed out become a metaphor for the gap between what is being said and what remains concealed. Jimmy loses himself in these exchanges and mistakes the performative for the actual. Even after the film slides into a conventional suspense drama, with Kevin standing in for the heroic truth-seeker, the dystopian quality of the earlier portions is hard to shrug off.
The performances are commendable, given the fact that the three principal actors deliver their lines while staring into various monitors and devices. Narayanan, who has also edited the film, deftly toggles between his physical distanced actors and milks ample tension out of split screens. The cold nature of present-day communication – love, heartbreak and redemption reduced to a ringtone or the ping of a message – is given an emotional undertow by Gopi Sundar’s background score.
There are glitches in the mostly seamless 98-minute narrative. We cannot but marvel at the instant replies and Anu’s ability to create an online avatar in what is later revealed to be difficult circumstances.
Character exposition is a casualty in a screenplay devoted to battling its way through a swarm of metadata. Jimmy’s borderline creepiness in pursuing Anu remains unexplored. Kevin’s rude behaviour towards his workplace girlfriend, who happens to be his boss, isn’t quite the peeling-the-onion moment it promises to be.
Narayanan takes his characters to the edge of an online nightmare, but then heads in the direction of a decidedly more old-fashioned ending. In C U Soon, the internet proposes and the internet disposes. The technical bravura of the production is unimpeachable, while the inability to form lasting connections with the callers is perhaps par for the course.