Vague Visages’ Follower review contains minor spoilers. Harshad Nalawade’s 2022 movie stars himself, Donna Munshi and Raghu Prakash. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Harshad Nalawade’s Follower provides a critical look at how the schism between conservatism and contrarianism disrupts the strong fabric of solidarity between individuals. The film presents a portrait of mutual trust and friendship between three people, until a midway twist shatters the spell. Follower manages to accurately capture the present sociopolitical climate of India by providing an unvarnished account of how political discourse is driven by maneuvering and manipulating information on social media. Nothing about Nalwade’s portrayal of this reality is controversial; rather, the film feels genuine and nuanced.
Follower unfolds in flashbacks and takes place in the linguistically disputed town of Belgaum in southern India. Raghavendra Pawar (Raghu Prakash), aka Raghu, works at the radical online news source Sanyukata Vaani and prefers to identify himself as a journalist. In reality, he works in a small office and, along with two other colleagues, posts incendiary and inflammatory tweets dictated by a senior official on social media, criticizing his rivals. Raghu receives a paltry sum of money as remuneration, which he does not want to deposit in a bank but keeps in the drawer of his office table. He is seized with the conviction that he is serving a greater cause, and though he realizes that most of the information circulated by his beloved leader is not the truth but propaganda, he still lets his biased thinking take over his rational reasoning. As events unfold, it’s revealed that Raghu once had an amicable relationship with an upper-class YouTuber named Sachin (Harshad Nalawade) and a single mother, Parveen (Donna Munshi), who works as a teacher. She rebuffed Raghu’s proposal for marriage, and Sachin shared a video on his channel that hurt his linguistic sentiments. In a fit of rage, Raghu uploads a counter-video with vicious rants that result in a detrimental outcome.
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Nalawade believes in the ideology that social media can be used as a propaganda weapon and disseminator of disinformation and falsehood. By focusing his attention on capturing and exploring the psyche of a linguistically marginalized individual, whose helplessness makes him an attractive scapegoat for those who preach hate, he has devised a milieu that resonates accurately with the political climate of 21st century India. To be able to do so with such objectivity at a time when authoritarian rulers are easily offended when citizens exercise their right to free expression is a courageous endeavor.
The characters inhabiting the universe of Follower have very determined ideas, but the film is not driven by them. Raghu thinks that by working as a journalist, he is fighting for the rights of the Marathi population of the region against the Kannadigas, whom he considers migrants. But Apeksha, whom he meets for a matrimonial alliance, gives him a reality check and tells him that he is blinded by a cause. Thus, the bubble regarding the pride of Raghu’s profession bursts in this brief meeting. He gets incensed because it is a bitter reality that he cannot stomach. Sachin posts impartial videos on his YouTube channel that expose the seeds of polarizing conflicts in the region, planted by a local leader. But his level-headedness is likely to be affected when he encounters individuals whose views and opinions run contrary to his worldview. For instance, at a restaurant, when a waiter refuses to serve him a non-vegetarian food item due to a religious reason, he starts an argument and threatens to make a video. When Raghu interferes and tries to pacify his infuriated friend, he has to bear the brunt of the man’s assertiveness. Thus, Follower acts as a transparent lens that tries to offer a nonpartisan glimpse into the characters and refuses to employ black-and-white characterizations. Nobody is projected as a completely good person, and everybody displays selfish and bigoted behavior.
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Raghu’s relationship with the two important women in his life, his mother and Parveen, looks like an unsalvageable squalor, deepened by his chauvinist attitude. He thinks that he should be appreciated for his work as a journalist, but his mother is not happy with his profession because his income is inadequate to run the family. Further, Raghu nurses the illusion that since Parveen is a single mother, she is not living a respectable life, so he wants to marry her. She doesn’t entertain the patronizing gaze. Such moments of unappreciation enrage Raghu even more and accentuate his radical outlook.
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Raghu’s perplexed state of mind in Follower is depicted with astuteness through the balanced framing by cinematographer Saket Gyani. He positions his camera in such a way that the news office cabinets, where Raghu works, appear to be trapping him in toxic echo chambers. When Raghu is threatened by both the Marathi and Kannadiga radical groups, the camera remains static, allowing viewers to feel the tangibility of the character’s turbulent disposition. At the same time, as the dramatic events of Follower move backward and forward, the seamlessness of the editing by Maulik Sharma ensures that the rhythmic flow of emotions across the various time periods is knitted together without disruption. The background score by Abhigyan Arora-Pranjal Gupta and the sound design by Piyush Shah create an aural space that is sustained and intensifies the mood of the film with a subtle balance.
Follower’s unshowy realism is heightened by the actors’ subdued and sensitive performances in exploring the wounds that run deep in this heartbreakingly sad tale. Prakash brings empathy to the character Raghu, whose seemingly valiant acts reveal layers of suppressed pain and guilt. Nalawade as Sachin delivers a reined-in performance with an intriguing impression. Munshi is equally impressive with her toned-down gestures that wordlessly define Parveen and her values.
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Follower is a significant film that allows audiences to mull over the reality of how easily we react and get triggered by contrarian dispositions. In the film, Pawar’s desire for vengeance is entirely based on impulsiveness. But he does not have the liberty to blame shortcomings on his sectarian sensibilities. In due course, he will move on with his life, but his past wounds will weigh him down at every turn. There is no escaping from this reality, which is a matter of concern for every conscious citizen of this world.
Follower is currently playing in the IFFR section “Focus: The Shape of Things to Come?”
Dipankar Sarkar (@Dipankar_Tezpur) is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.
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