M Cream: When Revolution comes half baked
A pretentious and muddled story about rebels without a pause or a cause. There is not much weed here either
Sonali Ghosh Sen Delhi
The stoner movies I have seen have had characters called Cheech and Chong, Dale and Saul, or just ‘The Dude’. Plotlines have usually involved dodging bullets, gangsters, and sometimes even Neil Patrick Harris. There’s almost always sharp dialogue, stoned existentialism, snappy buddy comedy, and, of course, a lot of onscreen toking.
So, when I heard of M Cream — India’s first stoner movie — I thought I knew what I was getting into, but was I wrong!
M Cream is about four friends who are helpfully identified in the film’s trailer as Figs a.ka. Figaro (Imaad Shah as stoner, writer, cynic, and rebel), Jay (Ira Dubey as student activist and opinionated idealist), Maggie (Auritra Ghosh as ‘party girl’, spoilt brat, and princess), and Niz (Raghav Chanana as wannabe poet, romantic, and ‘boy toy’).
Figgs might like Maggie, while Jay has an idealist’s crush on Niz. Maggie and Niz engage in sex and a lot of talk while Figgs engages in a bit of toke. It seems to do precious little to him other than make him roam around Paharganj wearing a t-shirt, which underlines his character arc as, as the movie would have you believe, a Hardcore Rebel.
So, early on in the film, you get to know that this is going to be a self-conscious discovery of… something. Of rebellion. Of existentialism. Of Love. Of… something even the director can’t quite get a whiff of.
With words like chaos and anarchy thrown liberally about, the road to rebellion is not going to have either brevity or levity, but instead will be a long, hard and serious look at acid-fuelled dreams.
The movie is ostensibly about a mythical drug, M cream, found somewhere high up in the Himalayas, “whose one puff will take you to nirvana”, which these four go in search of. But you know the marketing has gone all wrong for the film when the only Bong on the couch is Jay, or Jayashree Ghosh (Ira Dubey). All that the kids end up doing is drink rum and whiskey from the bottle and mock each other about “being walking clichés”, when they are ready to turn into those themselves. There is an acid trip thrown in, and a moon rave, but a film that should have been beating from a hippie rebel’s heart turns very pretentiously hipster.
The intentions of the movie are good. The road trip to escape corporate jobs and conventional monotony could have turned into a journey of freedom, and it does, in a way, as the cynic turns rebel, the idealist turns a little worldly wise, and Niz wises up to Maggie’s princess ways. But when you call yourself India’s first stoner movie, the ‘highs’ of the trip should be a bit more identifiable, entertaining, and revelatory. M Cream, sadly, is none of these things.
It is instead seemingly enclosed in its verbose bubble of references — from literature, politics, and causes, to a vague notion of rebellion. Yet none of it engages you or captures your imagination. As the four friends flit from one adventure to another, things that should have been life changing seem microscopic, as if the causes and poetry we have been subjected to are almost as empty as the protagonists’ words and actions. That we, as an audience, will also be caged in their dilettante search for real life, meaning, and everything in between.
The performances are good: Imaad Shah gets the attitude right, even if he can’t quite make out what his character will eventually be; Ira Dubey, as Jay, does have a curious chemistry with Imaad, playing very much against type; and Auritra Ghosh and Raghav Chanana are competent as Niz and Maggie (yes, even in the sex scenes). Barry John and Tom Alter and a luminous Beatrix Ordreix round out the cast, but they seem to be part of the greater hallucinative mix of characters who shimmer for a while and then fade out of script and audience memory.
The cinematography and the music, however, seem to get to what the script can’t. Ming Jue Hu’s camera makes the mountains a wonderland of mystery, as the trip meanders from parties to monasteries, from farmhouses to forests. The music ranges from rock and jazz to classical, and whether it is Shubha Mudgal’s honeyed vocals on ‘Mandana Bolena’, or the trippy ‘Man with a million dreams’ or the guitar riff of ‘Woh Parinda’, it all has the frenetic soul-searching spirit of youthful rebellion.
If debutant director Agneya Singh had kept the story to the personal — the road movie in which the protagonists change, grow, or improve over the course of the story — then M Cream could have been a pleasant enough movie, with something to say. But by keeping his ambitions larger, he makes both the film and its delightfully interesting characters much smaller. If it’s a revolution he wanted, he’s only getting it half-baked.