If Andrew Vachss made a Giallo in Mumbai, you would have to give it your full attention. Arguably, India could use a child protection advocate and cautionary story teller like Vachss, judging the reported 60,000 children that go missing in the country every year. It is a grim statistic that opens Partho Sen-Gupta’s hallucinatory but hard-hitting Sunrise (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
Lakshman Joshi is a social services inspector with the Mumbai police force (think SVU). His own daughter Aruna was kidnapped and the copper still isn’t over it. Neither is his wife Leela. In fact, they might both be losing their grip on reality, but in very different ways. When Joshi starts investigating the suspected abduction of another young girl named Naina, her case and that of his daughter become intertwined with the presumed visions Joshi has had of a seedy nightclub ironically called Paradise.
As Joshi chases a shadowy figure through the city’s rain-drenched streets, he experiences increasing difficulty distinguishing reality from his visions. It might even be bigger than Joshi’s problematic perception, as the film’s border between reality and fantasy becomes increasingly porous.
Sunrise is the sort of massively stylish Lynchian-film-on-acid that can overwhelm even the sturdiest screen presence. However, Adil Hussain’s absolutely riveting work as Joshi stands out and stands tall. It is a haunting, soul-searing performance that is all the more impressive given the gallons upon gallons of water that are dumped on him over the course of the film.
The ultra-noir and uber-surreal tone of Sunrise makes it unlikely to go mainstream, which is too bad, because it has an important message. Coming in the wake of the India’s Daughter censorship controversy, it viscerally addresses another social pathology many Indians are inclined to sweep under the rug. With recent studies suggesting 53% of the nation’s children have suffered some form of sexual abuse, you can quibble with numbers here and there, but the trends and the magnitudes are undeniably alarming.