Cafe Storyteller (2019): Life's sweet reminiscences and souvenirs.
Dipankar Sarkar, an acclaimed Indian film critic and graduate of FTII, Pune, analyses the short film Cafe Storyteller by Deep Choudhury.
Childhood memories are treasure troves that preserve the significant moments in our lives that define where we came from, what we learned, and who we were in the process of becoming. Our collection of ideas and thoughts at times stems from our investigation of memory. It is a journey for enlightenment, a quest for transcendence, and the basis of our existence. The resulting joy of longing and recaptured memory, the sense of evoking that yearning sense of becoming acquainted with the adult world, the existential need to return to a distant place or far-off time, can result in films replete with sweet nostalgic moments. Deep Choudhury’s fourteen-minute-long film Cafe Storyteller is one such creative endeavor.
The plot of the novel incorporates the past from varying points of view and the way that time has connected them all. The film uses the medium of first-person narrative midway through to forward the story. The protagonist's relationships with the central characters, Tony Curtis Lyngdoh, played by Bipul Teron, and how a regretful memory of his life is associated with this person, are the main focus. The film begins with a man (Banjop Leo Kharmalki) and a woman (Nitali Das) who are desperately waiting for a vehicle that would take them from a village in Megahalay to Guwahati Airport. As they wait in a small restaurant,the film shifts to the story of a young boy, Gilbert (Paul Richmond), in his teens, from a time when spotting an Ambadsador car in his village was nothing less than a wonder. He dreams of being able to ride in a car someday. Nevertheless, when the chance eventually presents itself, he narrowly misses it. The story progresses through several stages of his life, from the first missed opportunity to his lifelong search for that first taste of Maggi.
The story is as simple as it can be, but Deep Chowdhury's understanding of human psychology and his building his narrative on nostalgia are grippingly captured through the protagonist's emotions. He wisely chooses to focus on realism instead of over-the-top drama. There are certain nuances in his direction that are supported by the subtleties of expertly crafted acting that do not follow melodramatic tropes. The filmmaker succeeds in transporting us back to forgotten phases of our lives.
Nahid Ahmed contributes with his atmospheric cinematography and uses it to weave a believable story around a child and his yearnings. The editing of the film by Hiranya Kalita blends the past and present with a pace that complements the lucidity of the narration. Debojit Gayan’s sound design creates a layered and resonant world that brings authenticity to the story.
Cafe Storyteller makes some good observations about childhood and how certain small joys of life help shape our personalities. There is a hint of sadness in the film, but also a deep sense of satisfaction about how our lives are full of surprises. The film won two awards at the 8th Assam State Film Awards in 2023: best short film and best director for the year 2019.