Covid-inspired, ’Groundhog Day’-style supernatural drama finds a doctor trapped in a house with three generations of women

'House Of Time'

Source: Busan International Film Festival

‘House Of Time’

Dir/scr: Rajdeep Paul, Sarmistha Maiti. India. 2021. 125 mins.

The paranoia of the Covid pandemic is viewed through the prism of a Groundhog Day-style supernatural scenario in House Of Time. Rajdeep Paul and Sarmistha Maiti’s imaginative tale covers a wide range of issues and beliefs as passing days are marked by recurring events and opportunities for wiser decisions. It may feel overlong and overburdened by plot, but there is enough ambition and originality here to recommend it to festivals.

House Of Time can almost be read as a pandemic variation on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

House Of Time initially seems to be located firmly in horror territory. Out for a morning jog, a doctor (Janardan Ghosh) is talking on his phone bemoaning the state of India and disparaging his status as a “frontline warrior.” He is confronted by a woman in full PPE begging for his help. His reluctance to assist is met with a blow to the head. He awakes to find himself bound hand and foot in a house that is home to three generations of women.

The filmmakers use a palette of muted, beige shades to drain the setting of colour and lend it the look of a shroud. Is this a house outside of time? Are the three women real or ghosts? What is his fate to be?

There is a fortress mentality among the woman as Mamoni (Tannistha Biswas) frets over the fate of her sick mother, old Mamoni, played by Sreelekha Mukherji with a heroic repertoire of chesty coughs, wheezes and cackles. She also cares for her daughter, little Mamoni (Ahana Karmakar). The women share a deathly grey pallor and jet black hair. Their unblinking, sad-eyed stares and secret smiles suggest refugees from a Japanese horror film.

Masks are worn, doors are padlocked, medical supplies bulge from a suitcase. There is a sense that misinformation is rampant. Frankincense is burnt in the belief that the smoke will kill all germs. A passing friend of little Mamoni feels no need to wear a protective mask as “the disease only affects the rich.” The film constantly offers an undercurrent of social commentary on issues that have come into sharper focus during the pandemic, from social isolation and loneliness to fear of outsiders and how we treat the elderly. Nobody seems to miss the kidnapped doctor.

Days repeat themselves with key events happening at exactly the same time. A market delivery is made, incense is lit, Mamoni’s lover calls from a hospital morgue. Avijit Kundu’s mournful score adds to the sense that this is all a reflection of the monotony everyone experienced during lockdowns. Every day is the same, but there are also subtle variations that suggest India being overwhelmed by the pandemic. A daily television bulletin updates the growing number of infections, deaths and the fate of migrant workers. This is the big picture whilst events within the house are a microcosm of fear and ignorance.

The film highlights the number three throughout, whether it’s the central women, a collection of Russian dolls or a trio of goddesses. There are only three significant male characters. An abundance of signs and rhymes challenge our perception of what is happening. What really strikes home are the chances for the doctor to do things differently, respect his calling, tend to the sick and offer his skills to the family.

House Of Time can almost be read as a pandemic variation on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with the mean-spirited doctor given the opportunity to learn the error of his ways and make amends. The film may pay heed to its mystical, supernatural elements, but ultimately reveals its true intentions as a call to arms for compassion and the need to show understanding and enlightenment when humanity is tested to the limit.

Production company/international sales: Aurora Film Corporation, 

Producer: Anjan Bose

Cinematography: Rana Pratap Karforma

Editing: Sarmistha Maiti, Radeep Paul

Production design: Rajdeep Paul, Sarmistha Maiti, Rana Pratap Karforma

Music: Avijit Kundu

Main cast: Tannistha Biswas, Janardan Ghosh, Sreelekha Mukherji, Amit Saha, Ahana Karmakar, Deep Sarker