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Movie Critique: “The Spark” (2023) directed by Rajesh S. Jala.
Movie Critique: "The Spark" (2023) directed by Rajesh S. Jala.

Movie Critique: “The Spark” (2023) directed by Rajesh S. Jala.

Rajesh S. Jala has been employed as a filmmaker specializing in documentaries for the last two decades. His earliest full-length documentary, titled “Floating Lamp of The Shadow Valley” (2006), was shown at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival and also entered into competition at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in the United States. This was followed by “Children of The Pyre” (2008), which was showcased at the Busan International Film Festival and received the Documentary Award at the Montreal International Film Festival. His debut feature film, “The Spark”, is a combination of both narrative and documentary styles.

The movie “The Spark” will be shown at the Busan International Film Festival.

Kabir, a filmmaker, arrives in Varanasi to start shooting his new documentary. His focus is on Durga, who works at a crematorium by the Ganges, and Amma, who is waiting for death in Varanasi to end the cycle of reincarnation. However, it becomes apparent that filming the documentary is not his only objective in the city.

Rajesh S. Jala takes a unique approach to his film, which focuses on the contrast between two opposing forces. The scenes of Kabir filming his documentary also serve as a documentary within the movie, capturing both life in the human pyres and Amma’s life outside of them. This element adds depth to the film, with striking visuals of fire and close-ups of ants serving as metaphors for life, death, and the overpowering violence. The use of handheld cameras, close-ups, and glimpses of what the main character sees through his camera give this part a documentary feel, creating a meta portrayal.


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The second aspect of the mentioned duality arises when the movie camera shifts its focus to Kabir, specifically his life outside of the documentary shooting. This delves into thriller-like territory at times, though Jala keeps the narrative from fully going down that path. Sound plays a crucial role in this part, as we see Kabir frequently listening to a horrific lynching through his headphones or hearing calls for violence against Muslims through speakers. The revelations about his father and Kabir’s choices are somewhat justified in this context, with Jala making a clear commentary on how violence breeds more violence and the impact of religion in this ongoing cycle that has plagued India.

The recurrence of sounds and specific patterns, such as the impressive scene in which Kabir observes passersby in a café with his reflection visible in the window, adds a highly ritualistic element to the film. This is effective both visually and in terms of overall entertainment. However, the repetition can also become somewhat fatiguing, as the tension that builds throughout the narrative is not always released in a satisfying manner. It seems that the director may have chosen not to include more violence, possibly due to the already present violence in the movie and in the world. However, a more intense climax to the story would have strengthened the film.

Puneet Swaraswat does an excellent job in portraying the protagonist, perfectly capturing the essence of Jala’s vision. He delivers a controlled performance without any exaggerated moments.

“The Spark” is noteworthy for its use of audiovisual techniques, effectively transporting the audience into the specific location and capturing the essence of Jala’s message. However, it is clear that the documentary aspect is stronger than the feature aspect, making the film potentially more impactful if it were shorter. Nonetheless, the high production values make it a film best experienced on the big screen, providing an immersive viewing experience for most of its duration.