Dev Anand (Arjun Mathur) is a coffee expert in Bangalore, but his heart is probably in the Himalayas – he wants to get away from it all, become a sanyasi. He keeps listening to spiritual discourses on his earphones, and his only friend appears to be Sondha (the charming Ishwari Bose-Bhattacharya), a cheerful Bengali neighbour who has no qualms admitting that she’s a “kept woman.” When she playfully makes the moves on Dev – though we’re never sure if she’s playing or serious – he declares, “I won’t dance your sansarik disco.” Sondha shrugs and backs off. After all, that’s the way (aha, aha) he likes it. But there’s no movie there. So Dev goes to Coorg on business, to source coffee from an estate. And he runs into his ex Anika (Sugandha Garg). Soon, he’s barely stayin’ alive.
Manu Warrier’s Coffee Bloom begins with gorgeous shots of landscapes – the sunlight looks like gold dust falling from the heavens. But the film is about interiors – of the mind, of the heart. Dev’s predicament is essentially that of Humphrey Bogart’s bar owner in Casablanca, who memorably summed up the ridiculousness of the situation thus: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” Of all the coffee estates in all of Coorg, Anika happens to be in the one Dev walks into. She owns it, actually. With her husband, Srinivas (Mohan Kapoor). How do you say ouch! in Coorgi?
For most of its running time, Coffee Bloom is like one of those Alice Munro stories where we’re aware of cataclysms in the past but very little seems to be happening in the present. I say this as a good thing, for in the absence of minute-to-minute plot contrivances, the emphasis shifts to mood and character. And the actors, all of whom are terrific. When Dev first sees Anika, he steps away the way people do when they see someone they don’t have the wherewithal to handle right then – but she sees him too, and she comes up to him and begins to talk. Mathur portrays Dev’s agony exquisitely. His mind won’t function. The right words won’t come to him. His hands and face won’t stop betraying his uneasiness, the fact that he’d rather be anyplace but here. And Srinivas is his opposite. Kapoor plays him as an exuberant bear of a man, the kind dreaded by sensitive souls like Dev, who just can’t stand to be reminded that there are people out there laughing, squeezing every drop out of life and still thirsting for more. Dev finds that even his earphones won’t keep life away, as it begins to happen to him anew.
After a gentle two-thirds or so, the plot picks up and the film becomes hurried and less satisfying. An early gunshot finds an echo later. An early mention that “bhoomi Coorgi logon ke liye maa hai” turns heavy with portent later. We get the sense of the tidiness of screenplay-writing school. But the mess inside the characters is very real. The scene where Anika asks Sondha to leave (Sondha has come to visit Dev on the estate) rings false as it plays out, but there’s no denying Anika’s possessiveness about Dev. She knows she can’t be with him, but she also knows she doesn’t want him to be with Sondha, who, with her earth-mother sexiness, is as much the opposite of Anika as Srinivas is of Dev. As for Dev, he’s stuck with the resentment that Anika has moved on (and, apparently, happily so) while he’s marooned in a limbo. Coffee Bloom is about the bad things that good people cannot help doing sometimes, things that would make even Amrish Puri blanch.
- sanyasi = ascetic
- sansarik = wordly
- bhoomi Coorgi logon ke liye maa hai = The Coorgi people consider the earth their mother.
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