A rare Sikkimese film shot in the beautiful Himalayan state with mostly local acting talent (though the crew is quite diverse), Ralang Road bypasses the picturesque beauty of the place to depict its dark, foggy side.
Director Karma Takapa places the story in the towns of Borong and Rabong in southern Sikkim, and the winding road that connects the two. The central characters are drunks, thieves, dagger-wielding criminals, a vengeful woman, young kids up to no good, and menacingly rebellious teenagers.
While one character is out to take revenge on the man who wants her to abort their child, another is out to commit a cold-blooded murder to retrieve a shady bag.
To accentuate the grimness of the plot, Takapa puts his characters in the harsh cold of southern Sikkim and leaves them to navigate through the dense fog as much as they have to through the dark situations.
The eerie winter gloom, used predominantly in place of the well-known gorgeous sunshine beauty of the Himalayas, assumes the role of central character and sets up the story brilliantly.
Takapa depicts the duality of the tiny northeastern mountain state instead of glorifying its beauty. The focus is on a day in the life of some shady people trying to make a life for themselves in a small town.
In one scene, when two youngsters are talking about a song and singing it while looking out at the fog and the trees through the window, Takapa chooses to show only their backs, making us focus completely on what is being said (instead of how) and the atmosphere in which it is being said.
The filmmaker is effective when he lets the camera linger on his characters and captures the comedy in the mundaneness of their lives. On the other hand, too many shaky slow-motion (at times with added close-up) camera movements do no good for the film. They also detract from the actual drama in a couple of crucial scenes.
The performances, though, are average at best as most of the acting talent is untrained. Takapa also employs motifs like animals and a sense of the presence of a supernatural force amidst the murky plot and grey characters.
The end is as mysterious as the foggy setting of the film. The point, perhaps, is less about the plot and more about showcasing the duality of the dramatic and the mundane through an atmospheric lens.
Ralang Road was screened at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 12 October 2017.