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Graceful Drama Explores an Indian Woman’s Post-Trauma Journey

Subhadra Mahajan’s inaugural feature, aptly named “Second Chance,” brings warmth to a chilly setting. The narrative centers around Nia, a dejected young Indian woman seeking solace from her trauma by retreating to her family’s Himalayan summer house during the winter. What unfolds there exceeds both Nia’s and the viewer’s expectations, presenting a visually stunning region that may attract an influx of tourists. The film, a feel-good production in the truest sense, recently premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

The film opens with a frantic phone call, revealing Nia’s turmoil. She has taken abortion pills after being abandoned by her boyfriend and is desperate to hide this incident from her parents. The scene shifts to Nia (played by Dheera Johnson in an impressive debut) gazing at the breathtaking Himalayan landscape, captured beautifully in monochrome black and white.

Left alone when the house’s caretaker leaves due to unexplained business, Nia finds herself in the company of his elderly mother-in-law, Bhemi (Thakri Devi), and her lively grandson, eight-year-old Sunny (Kanav Thakur). While Nia, like any city dweller, spends her initial time unsuccessfully hunting for a cell phone signal, she soon starts integrating into her surroundings.

Initially restless, Nia gradually adapts to this new environment. She relishes Bhemi’s homemade dumplings, engages in batting practice with Sunny, and bonds with a kitten left in her care after Bhemi grew tired of it. Nia reconnects with an old boyfriend after a decade, who introduces her to his wife. She even attends a local party, indulging in some recreational drugs, and finds joy in dancing alone amidst the natural beauty.

Writer-director Mahajan skillfully uses a slow, unhurried pace to draw viewers into Nia’s quieter rhythms. Rather than resorting to cheap humor at the expense of the rural characters, Mahajan portrays them with dignity and wisdom. The scenes featuring an elderly shepherd (Ganga Ram) provide some delightful moments. “Nothing compares to a hot cup of tea!” he declares, before showering praises on Bhemi’s onion fritters. Bhemi quips, “If you had not stayed a bachelor, you would have enjoyed such delicacies.”

Bhemi, busy with her daily chores, harbors a tragic past, revealed when she shares a heartbreaking story about Sunny’s late mother. When Nia starts bleeding heavily due to complications from the abortion pills, Bhemi quickly calls a doctor, reassuring Nia that the doctor can keep a secret.

“Second Chance” seamlessly blends gentle humor with poignant drama, making us deeply empathize with Nia as she regains her emotional stability through her interactions with her newfound family. The surprising development feels natural amid the beautiful setting and the charming characters.

The film’s success owes much to the enchanting performances of child actor Thakur and the seasoned Devi, both of whom had no prior acting experience. Johnson’s moving portrayal of Nia is commendable, though the show is stolen by the feline Yuki, who makes a lasting impression.

Source: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival