BADGER. Director: Rajshree Ojha. Producer Arati Misro. Players: Dhritiman Chaterji, Amol Mhatre, Don Ganguly. English. (American Film Institute.)
For a short film, Badger is anything but small. As Ojha’s thesis offering for a degree from AFI, Badger packs more in its 25 minutes than most films do in two-plus hours. Cleverly (and budget-consciously) shot in black and white, Badger chisels out a remarkable character study that moves like a complex and fluid one-man stage play put to film.
Vernon “Badger” Andrews (played intensely by Chaterji), a former boxer who is now a tautly impeccable, middle-aged classic literature instructor at an exclusive all-male Calcutta college, finds his sense of propriety dealt a rude classroom wakeup call in the hands of an attractive, back-row slacker (Mhatre, who obsessed over Dimple Kapadia in the recent Leela). Badger’s unexpected outburst at this transgression (is he more upset by the act of insubordination or its subtle homoerotic come-on?) forces Badger to contemplate his frayed morality against the demands of modernity and even his sexuality.
On the professional front, Badger must negotiate a new urban order where spoiled offspring from corrupt parents escape discipline and unfairly cash in on advanced educational opportunities. On a more personal note, Badger must accept that his survival in a fast-changing culture is tied to accepting new personal limits and responsibilities.
Aptly capturing Badger’s every mood—from the sweat that accumulates on Badger’s forehead whenever he confronts attractive younger people (potential sexual rivals? partners?) to Badger’s off-hours through-the-fence peeks at his young, married next door neighbors (does that euphemistic cigarette betray this voyeuristic indulgence?)—Ojha and company execute an effective classroom tool. Sinfully short, Badger begs for a prequel, perhaps titled, Badger: The Boxing Years. This class project gets an A.