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It’s best to rip the band-aid off about October, featuring Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu as two colleagues who are united by a freak accident: this film was as exciting as getting my blood drawn from a nurse for visa renewal purposes. Even a gloomy celluloid version of an anaesthetic, if you will.

Barring riveting performances from its principal actors and nuggets of wry humour, this drama — with tragic undertones — crawls at a mind-numbing pace. It’s one of those films that takes pride in being pretentious, arty and hyperbolic. October may have worked wonderfully as a short story, but it made for a laborious watch when translated on the big screen.

Directed by Indian National Award-winning Shoojit Sircar, October is a tale about Dan, 21, in the throes of a grim quarter-life crisis. He’s a hotel management trainee who’s constantly doing graveyard shifts in a star hotel in Delhi, but finds his monotonous existence rocked when his colleague (Sandhu) plummets to the floor. He finds an innocuous connection with this sprightly young woman who is now strapped to a hospital bed fighting for her life, and his misplaced empathy as he feverishly follows her progress is what October is all about.

Your heart goes out to Dan, played impeccably by Dhawan, who’s stripped off all the trademark Bollywood macho hero stamps. He’s a happily miserable bloke and his eccentricities make for slivers of hope in this otherwise sleep-inducing drama.

Sandhu, who makes an impressive Hindi film debut in her role as Shuili Iyer, uses her large limpid eyes as an effective tool for communication. Her distraught mother, played by a well-balanced Gitanjali Rao, is another revelation in this film. But collective good performances and gorgeous cinematography don’t always make for life-altering films. But what comes as a relief is that, just like the hospital environs, October is intoxicatingly melodrama-free — a rarity in Bollywood features — but doesn’t ever turn sterile.

The survivors’ guilt — experienced by Dan and Shuili’s family — is subtly brought out. The way they grapple with the tragedy of watching their loved one being struck down in her prime is emotionally potent. While the circumstances are grim in this well-cast film, Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi still manage to insert dollops of humour. The verbal sparring between Dan and a nurse is absolute gold. Sircar also does a splendid job of bringing alive the brass tacks of the perennially demanding and taxing hotel industry. It’s a ringside view of all their drudgery and it isn’t all pretty.

But the biggest let-down is that none of the characters leave a lasting impression or stir your soul. Everyone seems to be in slow-motion in this film and it’s often exhausting to wait for that elusive emotional punch. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself stoically unaffected by the ordeal that Dan and Shiuli are subjected to.

While it’s impressive that October thwarts the foundation of a Bollywood film with its song and melodrama-free stand, this film will try your patience. Watch this at your own risk.

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Director: Shoojit Sircar

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu and Gitanjali Rao

Stars: 2.5 out of 5