Reema Maya’s Nocturnal Burger unfolds over the course of one night, expanding itself into larger perspectives of trauma and resilience. Nocturnal Burger, one of two Indian short films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is set in a dysfunctional local police station in Mumbai, where the quest for justice in a patriarchal, misogynistic society may be hit and miss. (Read also: Reema Maya on Her Second Short Film Nocturnal Burger Premiering at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival)
A visibly distraught but determined Simi (Millo Sunka) has come to the police station to file a complaint. Along with her, she has taken 13-year-old girl Minu (Bebo Madiwal) and a 30-year-old school teacher Sanu (Somnath Mondal). Simi wants to file a case against Sanu who forced a minor on a moving auto rickshaw that night. This leads to a male cop (Shrikant Yadav) and the junior female cop (Trupti Khamkar) taking up the story to file a complaint. Each of them somehow adheres to their own reasons.
As the points of view emerge, Nocturnal Burger pushes into a narrative less interested in showing what happened before, but rather how it invariably follows these individuals. By choosing not to show the attack, Maya sets her sights on the consequences that follow. Minu’s parents are called and the statement is recorded. While all this is taking place, Minu barely reacts – she doesn’t know what to say or how to explain what happened. She doesn’t know the answer that those around her are looking for. Her language of innocence and investigation collapses.
Harshveer Oberoi’s camera work is evocative in bringing out the dimly lit police station as a space witnessing trauma, casual misogyny and uncompromising truths. A small moment when the camera looks into the faces of a group of transgender women sitting near the corner is telling. Their involvement enough is a testament to their unheard voices, regularly affected by violence and exclusion. But for Simi, over the course of this one night, the trail begins to unravel her in myriad ways, beautifully traced in a stylistic, expansive sequence that only affirms Reema Maya’s unique visual aesthetic in the narrative format of a short film.
At its core, Nocturnal Burger is about female agency and self-righteousness in a system that never misses an opportunity to seize it. Even the junior female agent has to juxtapose her professional obligations with her personal freedom – she barely has her own word in either world. Simi and Minu come from different socio-economic backgrounds, but they share the same sense of humiliation when they choose to put their individuality above any other consideration for a moment.
Graced with Maya’s fiercely empathetic gaze, Nocturnal Burger is a moving, lavishly executed snapshot of a society where the idea of female liberation comes at a price. The temporary space of solidarity between two survivors of sexual violence defines the film’s raw, uncompromising power.