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Second Chance

Big-city woman escapes to the idyllic Himalayas in order to recover from a physical and also from a psychological wound - Indian drama premieres at the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM KARLOVY VARY

The action takes place during winter, in the idyllic Himalayas. The evergreen trees are still luscious, and the towering mountains are sprinkled with snow. A truly magnificent and soothing backdrop. Emotional landscapes: somewhere dreamy, virtually detached from reality. The black and white cinematography serves to emphasises the otherworldly atmosphere. Delhi-based, 30-something Nia (Dheera Johnson) travels to her family retreat atop the mountain range. The broken and depressed woman seeks urgent corporal and spiritual healing.

The residence caretaker had to leave due to emergency, leaving his elderly mother Bhemi (Thakri Devi) in charge of the domestic affairs, as well as of his eight-year-old son Sunni (Kanav Thakur). The old woman is warm and kind, and the child is expansive and talkative. Their entertainment is watching old cartoons on a jurassic vacuum tube television. Such reality is entirely disconnected from Nia’s, who is used to fast communication on her mobile. Phone reception is extremely iffy here, forcing our protagonist to mingle with her adorable hosts. It feels like they are 30 or 40 years behind in time. This is the familiar encounter of modernity and tradition. The difference from the majority of Indian films, is that there is no conflict between the two. In Second Chance, the old and the new complement and comfort each other.

This sense of remoteness and isolation allows Nia to recover from a major ordeal. She took abortion pills after becoming pregnant from a very selfish partner. She still loves him, as a flashback of their groovy romance reveals. And she wants to keep the procedure secret from her parents. After all, India remains a deeply conservative society and – while legal under certain circumstances – the termination of a pregnancy remains a taboo across all regions and classes. Judging by her family wealth and her urbanite, sophisticated attire, Nia belongs to a more privileged caste.

Sunny is obsessed with Superman, and hilariously converts his surroundings into a battlefield for his hero. The cat becomes “supercat”. He successfully engages Nia in the play: she soon becomes an integral part of his the adventure. We eventually learn the tragic fate of his mother, and it’s impossible not to emphasise with his coping mechanisms. She also bonds with the wrinkly Bhemi, a sweet grandmotherly figure. The old woman is very understanding of her physical and emotional turmoil, and provides crucial, potentially life-saving support when Nia’s health suddenly deteriorates.

Nia also reconnects with an old lover and his wife, in an awkward yet friendly encounter. The woman uses a reliable mobile network, offering Nia the opportunity to briefly reconnect with the busy world that she left behind. The three of them go to a party and party with locals around around their age. There’s even time for a little intoxication. Yet it’s when she’s entirely alone that Nis feels most empowered. She dances outdoors elegantly, almost entranced, while facing the impressive landscape. That’s the film’s most cathartic scene, and perhaps the moment Nia finds redemption, and allows herself the titular “second chance”. She can finally break away from the problems that followed her all the way to the distant Himalayas. Well, not entirely. Trouble will eventually find her.

This is a film about new beginnings, about finding pleasure in trivial little moments, and also about how bad events that can trigger positive change. A story infused with tenderness and optimism, and wrapping up with a small yet potent gesture of emancipation. A movie worth giving a chance!

Second Chance just premiered in the 58th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.


By Victor Fraga - 07-07-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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