The Gone Game
Director – Nikhil Nagesh Bhat
Cast – Sanjay Kapoor, Shweta Tripathi, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Arjun Mathur, Rukhsar Rehman, Dibyendu Bhattacharya
While some of the most high-profile film projects languish in limbo, both in India and abroad, the coronavirus pandemic has allowed for a new sub-genre of streaming to emerge. Regardless of their quality, these films and shows will serve as a nifty time capsule in the years to come, and a reminder that even in the face of extraordinary odds, storytellers continued doing what they do best.
The Gone Game, a four-part series out on the streamer Voot, isn’t the best example of quarantine content, but the paranoia and unease in the air certainly lends itself well to the show’s Hitchcockian plot.
Watch The Gone Game trailer here
Director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat sets his locked-room murder mystery in the early days of the pandemic. Our story begins in March, back when people were making dalgona coffee and banging thaalis in the hope that everything would soon get back to normal. It hasn’t. You can see the relative innocence in the Gujrals’ eyes when they debate, over video conference, whether or not to participate in the janta curfew that was conducted in March.
While Amara (Shweta Tripathi) and her mother, Suneeta (Rukhsar Rehman), are quite looking forward to participating in the nationwide gesture of support for frontline workers, Amara’s brother Sahil (Arjun Mathur) scoffs at the idea. Not only does he think it’s a waste of time, he has more concerning matters on his mind. Sahil returned from Bangkok recently, and after having evaded the mandatory test at the airport, quarantined himself in his bedroom, convinced that he’s been infected.
His wife, a social media influencer named Suhani (Shriya Pilgaonkar), is forced to sleep in the guest room. They are the only two characters who are in the same house. Everyone else, through a stroke of bad luck, is stranded alone, as so many of us were when the lockdown was announced by the government with just four hours’ notice.
When Sahil succumbs to the virus at the end of episode one — don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler, but rather the central premise of the story, which appears to be a cross between Hitchcocks’s The Lady Vanishes and Fincher’s Gone Girl — the family is stunned. They aren’t even able to attend his funeral. But when the hospital tells Amara that Sahil had never been admitted at all, she is convinced that something sinister is afoot, and that her brother might not really be dead.
Shot with the assistance of minimal crews at the actor’s homes, The Gone Game, on occasion, finds it difficult to escape its rather slapdash style. It feels like something that was put together only weeks ago. But it really can’t be held to the same standards as regular programming. While its screenplay certainly could’ve used another couple of passes — the transitions are abrupt and the performances not tonally aligned — it never lags, which might be just enough for its audience.
I wish that it had the restraint to be more lean. Throwing in a couple of unnecessary subplots — one involves a goon and the other infidelity — only adds to the noise. But by introducing so many strands, Bhat routinely ends up tying himself into knots. And to disentangle the storylines, he is forced to rely on contrivances. Amara conveniently happens to know a hacker, while her father Rajeev (played by Sanjay Kapoor), is especially well-connected, and manages to bribe his way through more than a handful of tough situations.
Unlike the terrific thriller Searching and the recent quarantine horror film Host, both of which restricted all action to within computer screens, thereby ramping up the tension and claustrophobia, The Gone Game uses this technique sparingly. The ratio of conventionally shot scenes, I’d estimate, is probably 50-50. But the show taps into the idea of isolation rather well. The restrictions leave little room for flamboyance but they encourage invention.
Aided by a groovy jazz-inspired score that regularly enters the ring when the screenplay runs out of steam, The Gone Game is an effective attempt at experimental cinema. Its reach often exceeds its grasp, but that’s OK.