OLD SCHOOL ROMANCE
Afew minutes into Once Again, we see the middle-aged female protagonist Tara Shetty (Shefali Shah) patting her face. The deliberateness of her gestures suggests a nightly ritual: she seems to be putting something on, perhaps an invisible layer of cream? Almost immediately after, there is a mirroring, when we see the film’s middle-aged male protagonist in the midst of his own cleansing ritual. But Amar Kumar (Neeraj Kabi) is a famous film star, and his smoky black eye make-up is being gently dabbed away by someone else. The addition of an invisible layer versus the removal of a visible one; the woman’s actions hoping to stave off the inevitability of age, while the man has just shot for a sequence with younger women: of such contrasting details is Kanwal Sethi’s film made.
Creating characters who share your sensibility is the oldest trick in the writer’s book, and Sethi takes this route, making Tara and Amar agents of the film’s unhurried tactility. It makes perfect sense that Tara’s cooking, slow marination and handground masala, should appeal to Amar, whose first gift to her is a gajra.
The premise—of a connection fostered through the daily delivery of a freshly-cooked meal—is bound to invite comparisons with The Lunchbox (2013). Both films are redolent with old-school romance: nostalgia for handwritten notes and landline appointments. Unlike the plotted safety of Ritesh Batra’s film though, Tara and Amar meet several times, letting the charmed flame of their phone banter flicker into unscripted disappointment. Women have long cooked to express love. The film recognises the intimacy of the act, and the unequal gendered labour of it. But Sethi’s glancing, atmospheric style doesn’t delve too deep, sometimes leaving us with more suggestion than substance.
The protagonists’ relationships with their respective grown-up children never feel fully fleshed out, coming off like distractions from our main focus. This is particularly so because Shah and Kabi are fine actors, and Shah’s intensity makes her chemistry with Kabi a smouldering thing.
Once Again artfully depicts a middle-aged couple drifting into love