Review: The Fourth Direction // Chauthi Koot (2015)

In the history books during the film’s period of reference, the road to the famed golden temple at Amritsar was treacherous and ill-fated. In the film ‘The Fourth Direction’, the journey to Amritsar as taken by a few men, both physical and mental, also proved to be uncertain, difficult and particularly wayward. This is a film that takes several steps off the conventional beaten narrative track, breaking some rules in storytelling, edging on our curiosity and sense of adventure at some points and making us scratch our heads at most other points.

‘The Fourth Direction’ aims to explore the climate of tension between the Sikh militants and the Indian government during the period of Operation Blue Star in 1984. Perhaps this film will give new meaning to the word obtuse. The film meditates on a few simple encounters hoping to provide enough colour to complete its portrait of the troubled times. It follows the trail of two men, Jugal and Raj, who are trying to hop on to the last train that will take them to Amritsar. They managed to nudge their way onto the last carriage, only to find it filled with others equally desperate as them. The second set of encounters manifests itself through the memory of Jugal. Centred around a Sikh family whom Jugal stumbles upon by chance, it recounts their experience trying to shelter a Sikh militant friend from the Indian military and their dilemma with a dog that refused to stop barking.
The strangest part of the film is the way director Gulvinder Singh joins up the dots in the plot without any real causal connection from one segment to another. The narrative trail takes us from the first set of encounters at the train station and the train carriage to the second set of encounters in the house of Joginder, aka the Sikh family with the dog, with each segment having no bearing on the other. For all the masterful build-ups, the anticipation of full-blown clashes, the expected window to the world of Operation Blue Star, we are left short-changed at several points in the film. The film skips the visual and narrative gratification for something more atmospheric and also skips completing what it meant to ignite. 

On one hand, being insulated from the real depth of the conflict seems to do Operation Blue Star a real injustice. One the other hand, its focussed depiction of micro battles, like those that happened within the Joginder household compound, brings home, excuse the pun, the human issues on a more profound level. Particularly effective is the use of the dog as a focal point of condensed tension between the various people who, stand at different sides of the conflict, driven more by circumstances than pure ideology. It provides an angle through which to study the various human motives and stakes involved in the situation. Director Gulvinder is also evidently sensitive to sound interplay in the film, having created an aural ambience that evokes the presence of conflict larger than what the visuals show. From the running sound of the train, the chirping of cricket choirs to the starker sounds like the dog’s barking and gunshots, sounds in this film function like narrative sign posts, signalling our journey from one point of the story to the next, creating a sense of immersion in the situation. All in all, these stylistic and technical triumphs do not hide the fact that the film has many voids to fill and it takes a lot more storytelling rigour, than the director has exercised, to make this journey back in history complete.

Review by Jeremy Sing

This review is part of the Asian Feature Film Competition series at the Singapore International Film Festival 2015. Read more about the film here.

This film won the Best Film Award in the SGIFF 2015 Asian Feature Film Competition.

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