In Writer-Director Sudipto Roy’s Kia and Cosmos, 15-year-old Kia (Ritwika Pal) is worried and sad because Cosmos, a pregnant cat she was very fond of, has been poisoned to death. Dia (Swastika Mukherjee), Kia’s mother and a single parent, says that a cat is an animal and no one is bothered about who killed her. So, Kia, who is very fond of detective thrillers having outgrown her fondness for Tintin comics, decides to investigate. Surprisingly, Cosmos was not even her pet cat. She took shelter in their home because her owner, Mrs Sinha, had left her husband and had gone away, leaving Cosmos behind. What makes Kia different is that she is born with ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is a specific set of behavioural and developmental problems and the challenges that go with them. A diagnosis of ASD means that your child’s communication, social, and play skills are affected in some way. Kia has Pervasive Development Disorder which now falls in Autism Spectrum Disorders. It involves difficulties with eye contact, communication, repetitive behavior, trouble with controlling emotions. But she is very intelligent, kind, confused and alone. Her ways of thinking about life, people, animals, literature, higher Maths, the Rubik’s Cube are very different from mainstream people. She is also friends with the cycle rickshaw puller Robi who drops her off to school and picks her up.
Kia and Cosmos is a ‘coming-of-age’ story in which Kia grows not only in terms of physical maturity but also in terms of social maturity with the script charting her journey from her investigation into the murder of Cosmos that unwittingly leads to her search for her father who left her mother and her all alone to disappear somewhere in Kalimpong. She goes it all alone to look for him till her journey comes to an end and she comes to terms with her life, walking away into the hills, muttering to herself, “I like it here. It is as if I have reached the stars to reach my father.”
The film pays great attention to small details and this underlines the kind of research that has gone behind Sudipto Roy’s cinematic aesthetics and technique to bring across a realistic representation of an intelligent, pretty, naïve, teenager who is not just suffering from ASD but is also coping with her adolescent problems of menstruation because her mother has no time for her. The director has taken great pains also with the theatre actress Ritwika Pal, who essays the very difficult role of a teenager born genetically different. Ritwika,who makes her debut in this film, is a healthy and very normal young woman in real life. Yet, she is able to convince that she has ASD and manages to appear like a 15-year-old in school uniform with her bag slung across her back, her hair in a China-cut, the slouch in her gait and her difficulty in making eye contact. Pal’s Kia pours her heart out daily to an English teacher Shouvik, who is is her imaginary creation to have someone to confide in. She is disturbed by loud noise but loves music specially the kind her father Kabir (Joy Sengupta) used to sing. She hates the colour yellow but thinks seeing red cars after seeing a yellow taxi will cut the ‘bad luck’ yellow brings. She cannot open her palms straight and her fingers are crooked which she tries to close into a fist when angry or nervous. She begins to write a thriller holding the pen in the middle of her two fingers instead of the normal way but does this in secret lest her mother find out. She finds it very difficult to pronounce words like “investigation”, “pregnant” and even simpler words but gets her messages across. She cannot solve the Rubik’s cube right but keeps trying nevertheless. She repeats a series of numbers to herself, or writes it on the blackboard again and again. .
Swastika as Kia’s disturbed, sad and depressed mother Dia is brilliant, while Joy Sengupta as Kabir is good too. He has a seemingly simple role but if one sees closely, his ‘activism’ through music is actually an escape route from shouldering the responsibility of dealing with a ASD daughter. His talks about Paul Robeson’s ‘music of rebellion’ are just empty noise and nothing more. Dia is more responsible the way she can barely manage to be. Zahed Hussain as the imaginary teacher with a Hercule Poirrot moustache and bald pate is spontaneous and natural and so is Sromon Chatterjee as the rickshawallah.
Aditya Varma’s cinematography is dominated by faint shades of blue and grey in keeping with the darkish ambience of the film. The camera captures the lanes of Tollygunge, the old houses and flats in Kolkata, closing in on walls with their plaster peeled off which Kia loves to feel with her fingers splayed out, insects roaming across a wall, the empty teachers’ room in the school, the daily ride and her conversations with Robi to and from school and you get to ‘feel’ the camera rather than see through it. There is just one Bengali song in addition to the numbers belted out by Kabir as Kia tries to pitch in with her guitar but the Bengali song is beautiful in its positioning, lyrics and melody and is rightly there on the soundtrack.
The art direction is graphically detailed – covers of Tintin comics hanging on the wall of Kia’s room, the apology of a kitchen where almost nothing is cooked as Kia is mostly dining off Maggie noodles or boiled veggies, the cluttered attic where Kia finds her notebook and accidentally discovers a family secret. Sound is also a very important metaphor for the film for us to understands Kia’s mind because even temple bells are disturbing sounds for her.
The two negatives are its length, which could be snipped off by 30 minutes at least and Kia’s independent journeying off from Kolkata to Kalimpong through several routes which looks most unbelievable for a 15-year-old who has ASD. Nevertheless, the film is held together by Ritwika Pal, who carries the entire burden of a very difficult role and a challenging film on her slender shoulders. There is a touching scene in which a little girl takes off her woollen cap and puts it on Kia trembling in the Kalimpong cold and Kia smiles back. No words are exchanged. With scenes like this, Kia and Cosmos leaves you with that haunting silence where words are redundant.
Bengali, Drama, Color