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By Phil Hall | August 4, 2002

Aditya is an Indian systems analyst who was unable to secure a job in the U.S., so he settles for employment in Bombay. Akanksha is an actress who studied drama in London, but returned to India when she was unable to obtain steady work in the British entertainment industry. After a chance meeting at a party, Akanksha invites Aditya to her apartment for dinner. Their mutual attraction is more than obvious and the two seize the moment (and each other). Yet their personalities are not a perfect fit: Aditya is prone to immaturity and insecurity while Akanksha needs a stable partner who can share the happiness of her sudden luck in landing a considerable film role in a Bollywood production. The couple split, miss each other and reunite. Yet whether their union can survive is uncertain.
Thus spins “Clever & Lonely,” a no-budget digital video feature from Ashwini Malik. While Malik’s heavily verbose screenplay intends to provide a mature and intelligent dissection of frail emotions and wobbly mindframes, the film unfortunately only offers a carousel of circular conversations. Ages-old palaver about the battle of the sexes, the inability to maintain solid relationships and the general lack of self-confidence in a shaky world are obviously not new subjects (especially in the world of indie cinema), and “Clever & Lonely” trots out these conversational warhorses without giving them any new turf to run across. Too much time is wasted on banalities such as whether men mentally undress women and whether women can or should do the same. There is a dreadful sense of ˜been there, done that” in much of the screenplay, and Malik’s claustrophobic direction (the film was shot primarily within the tight confines of a tiny apartment) offers little distraction or diversion from the frequently stale chatter.
Yet “Clever & Lonely” is blessed with the inspired casting of Aamir Bashir as Aditya and Nilanjana as Akanksha. He provides the perfect mixture of charm and arrogance, molding a character who seems more interesting than he actually is, while she keeps her character’s neurotic hang-ups in check with a subtle underplayed performance. Both performers are clearly in touch with the personality flaws infected into their respective roles, and their chemistry on-screen helps alleviate some of the screenplay’s ennui through the magic of old-fashioned star power (both actors are well-known Indian television performers). If the film has a reason to be seen, it is because of these fine performances. But ultimately the stars cannot overcome the repetition and somewhat tiresome plotline which eventually undercuts their screen presence and dulls the audience from caring.

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