Dev (Arjun Mathur) returns to his roots – of a mother’s house and coffee plantations – and he goes there in search of penance. But he ends up with more as he finds an old love in the form of Anika (Sugandha Ram), now Anika Panicker, married to Srinivas Panicker and owner of the estate. Dev is in trouble with loans and his mother’s passing and with the baggage of a suicidal past. He listens to spiritual lectures and never completes them throwing off his earphones in frustration every time. This is a pattern with Dev’s life. He has loans to repay, he once attempted suicide in a rush of bad decisions, his love story ended abruptly and he talks of becoming a sanyasi but never does anything about it or crosses over fully to the spiritual side. Dev has always been an incomplete man.
One of the poignant scenes is when Dev and Anika go out for a cultural show and spend some time lakeside in Coorg. We see flashes of their past, a mostly quiet Anika in the present and a constantly recollecting and recounting Dev. He talks about their relationship, something clearly he hasn’t yet gotten out of, their last few moments together and the trauma thereafter. When it is time to leave Anika gets up and walks out almost as if she couldn’t wait to get out. Dev stays there on the ground for a few moments and gets up with great difficulty. It is the dynamic captured in a single moment. Anika has moved on while Dev is someone still living in the past.
Manu Warrier ticks all the boxes for Coffee Bloom to qualify as an indie. It teases you with notes on spirituality and philosophy. It is a slow burn that works for more than half of its run. It has subtle, understated performances eschewing any melodrama for a subject this deep. Both Dev and Anika’s characters have an anchor around them that unlike the two live very much in the present and are happy to do so. Anika’s husband Srinivas (Mohan Kapoor) is that boisterous life of a party that everyone counts among their friends. And if you see him and hear him you can bet on this man leaving corporate life to live in the hills managing a coffee estate even if he is honest enough to admit he knows zilch about it. Same with Shondha, played beautifully by Ishwari Bose-Bhattacharya who admits openly that she is a “keep” and more importantly doesn’t care two hoots about her English or grammar. This open admittance is what’s missing from the principal characters especially Dev. His lack of understanding, misplaced priorities and depression leads him to do some very bad things and it’s nice that the writing itself isn’t sympathetic to Dev. He’s quickly put in his place. Like many unhurried small films Coffee Bloom too ends with a freak accident. But there’s nothing freaky about its characters. This is a story about normal people that lack direction and therefore motivated to hurt other people. Coffee Bloom may be pretentious in parts but there is an arresting soul in this drama.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)