15 August is likable and well-intentioned but undermined by its own laidback sensibilities and lack of ambition.
So, here’s a film with admirable intentions that it’s tough to dislike, but also that passes by without much notice thanks to its own complete lack of ambition. As with most low-key slice-of-life dramas, 15 August, written by Yogesh Vinayak Joshi and directed by Swapnaneel Jayakar, swings the double-edged sword of authenticity versus drama and ends up getting it stuck somewhere in territory that is disappointingly mundane.
It’s no fault of the actors, who are competent but not asked to do much, and play characters who are likable but possessed of only minor idiosyncrasies and conflicts that aren’t lively enough to sustain a two-hour drama. Set across a few hours on the morning of Indian Independence Day, various events oversold by Netflix (where the film debuted globally today) as “zany mishaps” unite a nondescript community in a Mumbai chawl. There are plights both emotional and physical to consider, but none that are really brought to life by a thin script.
Rahul Pethe and Mrunmayee Deshpande are stand-outs at the center of a burgeoning love story, and other supporting players — some of them clear stand-ins for various aspects of the Indian cultural identity, for which the film’s chawl setting is clearly intended as a microcosmic embodiment — drift in and out to varying degrees of notice.
I always admire films like 15 August for believing, earnestly, that everyday people with everyday problems are worthy of a movie that doesn’t have to fabricate wacky shenanigans just to make them interesting. But it’s a delicate balancing act to write that kind of story and to find a compelling narrative throughline and payoff in those kinds of understated ideas; sometimes, as everyday people with everyday problems, what we want from our media is an escape from those things — something bigger and more outlandish to get lost in. 15 August sets the bar low and clears it so ably that you can’t help but wonder what might have been had it aimed for more.