For most people, the first that comes to mind when the cinema of India is mentioned is Bollywood. Those with a broader cinematic knowledge will think of the Indian New Wave. But “Lorni – The Flaneur”, a feature debut by Wanphrang K. Diengdoh is something that defies all the expectations: a micro-budgeted, guerilla-filmed noir set in the peculiar surroundings of the city of Shillong and its diverse cultural milieu. The film had its official World Premiere in the First Features Competition at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
Shem, played by Adil Hussain of “Life of Pi” and “Hotel Salvation” fame, is an unlicensed private investigator (the first term in the title is a Khasi-language word for an inquisitive person who knows what is going on in community) who spends his days idling (hence the second part of the title) at a local joint in the town of Shillong, in the hilly state of Meghalaya, in the North-Eastern part of India. His “half-breed” origins make him both a perfect insider and outsider in the Khasi-dominated local culture and the perfect man for the job of investigation of the disappearance of the missing cultural and mythical artifacts stolen from a local well-to-do household. Soon enough, the investigation takes a turn from reality towards the surreal realm of dreams, alcohol-infused hallucinations and the folklore myths…
The film’s basis consists of integral, noir genre elements like the jaded, lonely detective who explains his moves and thought process in the voice-over narration, a strange mission, a proper femme fatale, some local informants and unlikely suspects immersed into an out-of-ordinary setting of a culturally specific Indian city that is big enough to support a detective-type of story, but small enough to maintain the authenticity and culture of gossiping. Apart from shooting the whole film in guerrilla fashion, in just 24 days on a shoestring budget, Diengdoh’s heroic work reflects the fact that the elements of the local culture are masterfully interwoven, so the film cannot be written off as a piece of pastoral exoticism: the treatment of languages (a mix of Khasi, English and Hindi) heard in conversations, the culture, the philosophy and the visual identity of the place, captured through the lens of the cinematographer Paramesh Deka, feel organic in “Lorni – The Flaneur”.
Diengdoh is a multi-disciplinary artist with the background in short and documentary filmmaking, music and performance arts, as well as a cultural activist in the #khasinewwave movement, so it does not come as a huge surprise that he did most of the technical and creative work on the film himself. “Lorni – The Flaneur” was his brainchild from the start and he developed it for ten years as a film and as a graphic novel. Apart from writing and directing it, he also served as his own editor and composed the original score and the songs seen and heard in the film himself, while also performing them with one of his bands, Nion.
Diengdoh’s cast of local non-actors blends perfectly with the surroundings, adding another layer of authenticity to the story, while the only real star, Adil Hussain, serves perfectly as their leader and anchor, drawing the viewer’s attention to himself. In the end, “Lorni – The Flaneur” is a completely original piece of filmmaking that innovates the noir genre and a pleasant, smooth and fun watch, which makes it compulsory for anyone who calls himself a cinephile.