Film version of acclaimed novel ‘Cobalt Blue’ is on Netflix

Indian screenwriter, playwright and director Sachin Kundalkar published his novel Cobalt Blue in 2006 and now 15 years later he’s adapted it for the screen.

Kundalkar wrote the story when he was in his early 20’s and showed it to his close circle of friends. The first editions of the story were published in Marathi language. In 2013 an English language translation was released, and the story became more widely known.

It follows an Indian family living in Pune, whose lives are changed when they take in a playing lodger. It follows the story of two siblings Tanay and Anuja, who both fall in love with the mysterious guest.

Tanay dreams of being an author, and often sits at the edge of a pond in his garden telling his challenges in life to a turtle he’s named after the poet Pablo Neruda. After the deaths of his grandparents, Tanay hopes he’ll be able to get a room of his own rather than sharing with his brother, alas his hopes are dashed when his parents decide to take on a lodger who occupies the large empty space in the house.

The guest, whose name is never revealed, is an artist working at a new gallery space in the town. He befriends Tanay and introduces him to new books and films. Soon the two are spending time together and a sexual attraction develops.

Soon the pair are slipping away for late night romantic trysts, but Tanays new love life is shattered when he discovers his new friend has also been spending time with his sister.

The film is quite daring for conservative India, where depictions of LGBTIQA+ relationships are not common. Prominent actor Prateik Babbar plays the unnamed paying guest at the family’s home, while Neelay Mehendale plays Tanay, and Anjali Sivaraman plays his tomboy sister.

There are many themes woven throughout this story, it discussed family, grief, sexuality, patriarchal expectations and gender roles. It also has some questionable elements to the story given the suggested age of the protagonist, and the position of power those who engage with him have.

Unlike the book which gave equal amount of time to the stories of the two siblings, this telling of the tale moves the focus firmly into one side of the love triangle, a choice that has infuriated many fans of the original novel.

Kundalkar directed the film, but does not have a director’s credit on the final film following allegations that he had sexually abused a crew member during the production. Neither the director or Netflix have addressed the allegations but it was agreed he would step away from the production.

Cobalt Blue is far from being a gripping watch, but it’s an intriguing take on sexual awakening told from a non-Western culture viewpoint. The story also has a lovely way of leaving lots of lose ends, like life has, rather than tying it all up in a tidy storytelling package.

Cobalt Blue can be streamed on Netflix.

Graeme Watson

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