KIA AND COSMOS is the debut feature from director Sudipto Roy. The story follows the teenager Kia, a youngster with pervasive development disorders musing on the curious disappearance of her father, her mother’s low-level resentment with the difficulty of parenting her, the murder of the neighbour’s pregnant cat, and writing all of this down as a novel. A charming story, if occasionally meandering in a shaggy
dog cat way, the lead performances and Roy’s eye leave an affectionate imprint.
Inspired by the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the plot essentially plays out as an adaptation of the storyline, with some location and gender swaps. We find ourselves in Kolkata, India and Kia is a young schoolgirl living with her mother in the absence of her father, in a mirror of the novel. This source material means the script manages to easily sidestep any autism-as-a-superpower tropes that so often find their way into pop culture. Instead, Ritwika Pal’s performance as Kia is endearing, her frustration at metaphors clear in her response to her mother (Swastika Mukherjee) saying her “eyes are heavy”. Her relationship with her teacher Souvik (Zahid Hossain) is also well developed in their scenes together – Kia’s observational abilities and capabilities in things such as “higher mathematics” comes through naturally in those scenes. Kia often murmurs mathematical series to herself; the Fibonacci sequence comes up more than once as a sort of mental pacifier.
Roy (who, in an endearing piece of humility, credits the film as “Sudipto Roy & team” in promotional material) also shows a great eye for images – alongside cinematographer Aditya Varma – that bring the story into this new medium. Nighttime rickshaw rides have a magical dreamlike quality, laden with contrasting lights and bokeh effect. When Kia’s mother, Dia, stares into her face the camera shifts to a POV shot that makes it clear how alarming this interaction could be. As Dia weeps, we can still pick out the tear that trickles down her rain-sodden face (be damned, whatever Roy Batty has to say about that).
Kia’s interactions with various people bring to the front ideas on what parenthood constitutes and who can deliver it; deceived but (begrudgingly) cared for her by her mother, abandoned but supportively encouraged by her father. Her interactions with Souvik seem the most unabashedly positive and encouraging. When establishing all this, the film does meander a bit at the start; in the opening half hour or so things are established and re-established a number of times. Although it allows a familiarity with the characters to develop (the payoff of which is Kia’s odyssey at the film’s conclusion), it means we lack a bit of early momentum, before things start to crystallise in tandem with Kia’s resolve to get to the bottom of the various plot strands. The musical contribution of Neel Adhikari plays a large role in re-developing that momentum. Although these aren’t as smoothly blended as they could be in the film’s opening moves, by the conclusion they have been brought together to good effect.
KIA AND COSMOS takes a while to get going, but when it does it is a charming and endearing story. The connection developed through the excellent lead performances and tonal skill of Sudipto Roy mean the optimism the film finishes on matches your own emotional journey as a viewer.