Nepali Times Asian Paints
Critical Cinema
Oriental affectation, Occidental disaffection


Afilm like The Darjeeling Limited is always suspect. Made by Wes Anderson in his trademark style, the film is showy, vain and utterly insincere. By extension, those of us who love this style are seen as occupying a pretentious and esoteric outpost against the cultural mainstream.

This is a style that Anderson aced first in Rushmore (1998) and then more solidly in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), perhaps one of the most memorable films of this decade, and the milestone by which all his films will inevitably be measured. Both admired and criticised for an incorrigible obsession with mannerisms and eccentricities, Anderson's films stand out for how profoundly entrenched they are in human emotions. In the unabashedly artificial and decorative world of Anderson, though, these emotions are manifested not in the abstract but in actual, concrete objects, i.e. props, which Anderson uses meticulously.

A quirky materialism, compulsive wit, delicate comedy, a contained melancholy of filial disaffection and a nostalgic longing for reunion are characteristic of his films.

Darjeeling takes you into that world, aboard a fantastically festooned Indian locomotive. It's a story of three brothers who have gathered for the first time since their father's funeral a year before in order to heal themselves with a 'spiritual journey' across India, to bond, to mourn their father, and to find their lost mother. Eldest brother Francis (Wilson) is bandaged from a recent accident yet has an overbearing sense of authority. Peter (Brody) hides under a pair of shades he inherited from the dead father and broods over his marriage and expected baby. Youngest Jack (Schwatzman) lusts after the Indian cabin hostess and writes fiction. Together they travel across Rajasthan with their matching sets of luggage.

Anderson's signature is all over Darjeeling, and he has received much flack for not offering anything new. But shot in India, Darjeeling does broaden Anderson's palette, allowing him to elude the claustrophobia which stems from his staginess.

If New York can look so fantastical in Tenenbaums, just imagine what India would allow him. Having undergone centuries of mystification and exoticisation, the tropes of India easily lend the caprice and curiosity essential to Anderson's characters. A colourful train, boundless spirituality, a vintage village, a roaming man-eating tiger - India in Darjeeling is unapologetically contrived and over-the-top. But for ironist and satirist Anderson that is precisely the point.

The idea of shooting in India apparently came after Martin Scorsese introduced Anderson to Jean Renoir's 1951 classic The River, the film that initiated Satyajit Ray's illustrious film career. You may also notice that Darjeeling's soundtrack is crammed with music from Ray's films.

The fact that Anderson, at the age of 38, is already flirting with canonised geniuses like Ray may seem a bit narcissistic, something that critics have been quick to point out in addition to his self-referential style. But whether this is legitimate or not, Anderson does have the talent to back it up. He may only have five films on his resume, but Anderson is not just a rising auteur. He is a singular artist whose quirks have charmed even unadventurous, straight-laced Hollywood.

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan.
2007. R. 91 min.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)