NYIFF 2014 Review: In SNIFFER A Man Finds Himself In The Dirty Laundry Of Others

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Most people show a lot of who they are through their interactions with others. Sure, there's the person we think we are, or the person that we imagine ourselves to be on our best days, but it's really how we treat the people in our lives that determines our legacy. In Buddhadeb Dasgupta's new film, Sniffer (Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa), a private dick, or sniffer in the Indian jargon used throughout the film, discovers his true self though his search for truth and compassion in others. It is a marvelously humane look at humanity on its best and worst behavior, sometimes simultaneously, and goes to prove that what you do isn't always who you are.

Anwar is a private detective working for a seedy agency specializing in hunting down cheating spouses and vetting potential mates for middle and upper class families. It's his job to keep an eye on the prospective fiance(e)s and let the parents know if this is a suitably virginal match (most often it isn't, this is 2014 after all). However, Anwar has a problem, it is the big beating heart in his chest that can't quite seem to disconnect from his job when he's undercover. He instinctively wants to protect true love from the harassment of arranged marriage, and it's not good for business. As he finds himself falling deeper and deeper into cases, he ends up finding out that (surprise!) the intentions of his clients are less than noble and winds up on a journey to hunt down his own past and discover just how good a man he can be.

Sniffer is a complicated film with multiple plot threads being woven through a single man. How Anwar manages to keep them all straight is incredible to me, but I suppose that on a journey as personal as his, it must be easier. At every moment Anwar is a Buddha, a man of infinite compassion, but not without his fuse, long though it may be. This doesn't mean that he sees the good in everyone, it means that he finds compassion for those who have earned it and are being mistreated, whether it's a clandestine couple in love, a woman being used by a roadside romeo, or a closeted gay man grieving over his recently lost lover. Anwar is such pure light that he absorbs the darkness from these people in pain and makes it his own, and the price he pays can be high, but it is nothing compared to the rewards.

Director Buddhadeb Dasgupta is a multiple National Award winning Begali director with a CV going back nearly four decades, but this is the first of his films that I've seen. If this is the sort of work I've been missing, it's definitely time to catch up. The combination of a filmmaker with such deep emotional bonds with his characters and India's greatest character actor turned leading man in Nawazuddin Siddiqui is impossible to ignore, and the results are staggeringly heartfelt. Dasgupta treats his world with care, weaving himself in and out of his characters lives, delicately laying strands between them that will tie themselves into seemingly impossible knots that can only be undone with kindness, it is inspiring stuff.

Any review of this film would be incomplete without heaping praise upon its leading man. I once mentioned in a review that nobody played tortured souls like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and it's true, but this is another level for him. Few actors can transition from bombastic performances in films likes Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 and Monsoon Shootout, to idiosyncratic characters in blockbusters like Talaash, to the tortured yet sympathetic work in Patang and Liar's Dice, however, Siddiqui is on another level that many actors 20 and 30 years his senior will never see. Siddiqui will soon be gracing American screens in Ashim Alhuwalia's ode to sleaze, Miss Lovely, and it's somewhat fitting because his performance in that film is about as close to the character of Anwar as he's come. This one may be tough to find, but it proves that this man is a force to be reckoned with, and it's only a matter of time before everyone knows it.
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