Despite the many protests about the role Netflix currently plays in the movie industry, the undeniable fact is that without its streaming platform, a number of interesting productions (and really many from Asia) would have never found their way to the TVs of the rest of the world, something, which, in my book, is definitely a tick in the pros column. The selection method of these movies, however, remains a mystery and the fact is that not all of them are of quality. Let us see what is the case with “Kia and Cosmos” is.
The story is loosely based on the “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”, a novel by Mark Haddon, and revolves around a 15-year-old girl in the spectrum of autism named Kia. Kia lives with just her mother, Dia, and has few friends, mostly her teacher in school and a young ricksaw-wallah who takes her there. She loves numbers, detective novels and does not like when people touch her. Despite her limitations, and her mother’s somewhat overprotective behaviour, she is happy and truly enjoys the company of all her neighbors, including a pregnant cat, named Cosmos. However, when the cat is found dead, Kia’s balance is shaken to the core, and the girl begins an investigation, following in the footsteps of her favorite authors, to find the killer. Her mother fights her all along the way, but soon a number of secrets come to the fore.
Let me start with the negatives in the film. The first one is that more than half of the dialogue is in English, and that Kia’s English accent (which comes from an autistic individual) is somewhat hard to discern, on many occasions. This aspect becomes even worse due to the sound design, that has the voices of the characters occasionally very low and particularly on the scenes where the camera is placed far away from the action, it is almost impossible to understand what is being said. I feel that this issue could be addressed a bit more carefully by both the producers of the film and Netflix, by having subs also in the English-speaking parts.
Secondly, the casting is a bit off, not in terms of acting, but of appearances, since the 1995-born Ritwika Pal plays a 15-year-old and does not look the part at all, while Swastika Mukherjee as her mother looks more like a femme fatale than any kind of motherly figure. Regarding Mukherjee, I realize that this might be my completely subjective opinion but there is no doubt about Pal.
Lastly, I felt that the film was too long, and that it occasionally lagged at some points, not by having unnecessary scenes (for the most part) but by dragging them a bit too much.
The aforementioned however, do not mean that “Kia and Cosmos” is a bad film. On the contrary, Sudipto Roy has managed to shoot a very sensitive movie on one hand, but which avoids falling on the reef of the “misery porn” on the other. Evidently, his most crucial tool in achieving this is by having his protagonist being quite functional (which is a legit fact in the spectrum) and not completely dysfunctional as is usual the case with movies that have protagonists who are autistic. On the contrary, the film is easy-going, for the most part, while Roy has also induced it with moments of humor, like when Kia asks about her uncle mentioning that is raining cats or dogs, or when she confesses to her teacher the names she wanted to give to Cosmos newborns.
At the same time, this generally “light” atmosphere Roy retains, makes the dramatic moments more intense and the revelations more shocking, while it does not fail to communicate his social messages. In that fashion, it is soon revealed that the friction between Kia and Dia has its roots in the most common issue parents and children face all over the world. The former want to protect their kids, and in that effort of theirs, become overprotective in essence faulting their children instead of benefitting them, and the latter, to break free from the family “holds” and become their own persons, occasionally by rebelling clumsily. In that regard, Roy also highlights the fact that the problems of families with autistic children are not so different from the ones “normal” families face.
The acting is also on a very high level. Ritwika Pal may not look the age of the part, but is great in every other aspect, portraying wonderfully the autistic Kia and all her coming-of-age elements, including a frustration that results from both her condition and her age. Swastika Mukherjee is also very convincing as the mother who wants to protect her child but does not know how to do so, also ending up frustrated. The chemistry of the two is great and one of the main traits of the narrative, with the scenes where they fight or apologizing being the apogee of this part.
Aditya Varma’s cinematography highlights the world as seen from the eyes of Kia exceptionally, through a combination of sensitivity and realism. Anirban’s editing induces the film with a mellow pace that suits its aesthetics well, although a few more cuts and a bit more speed would also benefit the movie, as I mentioned before.
“Kia and Cosmos” has its issues, but in the end, I felt that it rose above them, resulting in a more than worthy effort and a truly entertaining film.