In the early moments of the film, one of the ancillary characters proclaims: It’s always about what you lose. What you leave behind.
Cobalt Blue is filled with moments of loss – loss of home town, loss of family members, and loss of first love. However, for every loss the characters gain in the form of new cultural experiences, new acquaintances and renewed passion and meaning to their ambitions.
In the thick of things is Tanay (Neelay Mehendale) who positions himself in the fringes of the society and his alternate sexuality is not the only reason for it. He has a fertile imagination and in his world, a pet tortoise named Pablo Neruda is the rule rather than an exception. He ticks all the boxes of a clichéd young gay man – he is fascinated by his English professor (Neil Bhoopalam), worships a pop star (Michael Jackson) and is inclined towards the creative arts (he wants to write about Russian boys in Goa among other things).
The audience gets to see his world from his point of view. When he explicitly stares at a group of young shirtless men playing football with desire in his eyes, it elicits a reaction from all of us. We become a part of his inner thoughts that vents out in the form of monologues and poetry. So, when he first comes face to face with the easy on the eyes paying guest (Prateik Babbar), his imagination goes into overdrive. What follow next is dream-like sequences that blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy. For instance, Tanay and ‘the paying guest’ have nocturnal sex on a river side and are greeted by an elephant when they wake up the next morning. They make out on the top floor of the house and nobody ever barges in on them despite the upper portion having no doors.
The dream is, however, shattered when Tanay finds out that his sister Anuja (Anjali Sivaraman) has eloped with his ‘lover’. His sister is positioned as his nemesis in the story – the straight talking tomboy to his sensitive and aloof nature.
Coming to the nameless character of the film – the paying guest, the artist, the seducer, the conflict maker – who is played with utter conviction by Prateik Babbar, is an enigmatic one. Unlike the other characters in the film, he escapes the constriction of labels by the virtue of his enigma. It might also be the reason why he attracts people of all genders towards him; Tanay and his sister Anuja in this case. He resembles ‘the visitor’ in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema and has the subtle nuances of Oliver in Call Me By Your Name, as he is evidently more experienced in life than Tanay. Like a hermaphrodite angel passing through Earth and coming in close contact with mortal beings, he awakens something deep hidden within the siblings. He gives them a painful memory filled with colours – (cobalt) blue is the colour of sadness – that will decide the course of their future. Reiterating what this author mentioned in the beginning of the review: ‘It’s always about what you lose’ that decides ‘what you leave behind.’
Cobalt Blue is arguably the timeliest, but not necessarily flawless, queer film to come out of the country as it doesn’t feel out of place. We are at a junction of Indian cinema where the success of mainstream queer themed Bollywood films has paved the way for small slice-of-life queer films like this one. The director and writer Sachin Kundalkar adapts his own book into a picturesque narrative of coming-of-age and the pangs of first love with precision and clarity of thought.
P.S: The movie is Streaming on Netflix.