Privacy (2023) Review
Making its debut at BIFAN, The Bucheon International Film Festival, Privacy opens with a quote about mass surveillance from Edward Snowden who famously claimed America was too repressive to live in before fucking off to that noted bastion of freedom, Russia, with several laptops full of classified information. Not somebody I’d quote, but obviously the makers of Privacy felt differently.
The film itself opens with a montage of shots from CCTV cameras in and around the city of Mumbai accompanied by news reports about the increase of cameras in the city and talking heads debating the privacy implications of the cameras. “These cameras will violate our right to privacy in public,” says one of the debaters who then goes on to say that the people monitoring these cameras will be voyeurs and psychopaths.
The film itself revolves around Roopali (Rajshri Deshpande, Trial By Fire, Collar Bomb) a police officer whose job is to monitor several of those cameras. And, since writer/director Sudeep Kanwal (Silent Wave, It Rises from the East) has made his agenda clear by this point it’s no surprise when we see her surreptitiously download footage of a wealthy housewife (Mansi Singh, Crime Patrol) onto a flash drive to watch at home.
“The access to personal data by big corporations should be a topic of concern. Yet, we don’t hear much about it. There are no strict regulations against collection of data. Even though the film is based around a CCTV control room. The theme of losing privacy to technology is similar to what’s happening to all of us on a daily basis. I hope the film can make the viewer aware of privacy issues that surround us.Sudeep Kanwal
Much of Privacy’s first act is simply a look at Roopali’s rather dull life and dissatisfaction with her job, especially after being reprimanded for wanting to investigate what appears to be an illegal abortion. After witnessing a robbery turned to murder, recorded on Camera 1984 in another incredibly subtle moment, she begins her own investigation. But when she becomes involved with AJ (Nishank Verma, Section 375, Gold) things start to become more complicated than she expected.
Once it gets to this point, Privacy actually starts to become a decent thriller with a few unexpected twists up its sleeve. The problem is it takes too long to get there and the viewer has to put up with Kanwal repeatedly beating them over the head with his message about CCTV and surveillance. It feels more like a propaganda film with the thriller element welded on as a subplot when it should be the other way around.
If Kanwal removed the opening sequences with the news and talk show segments and used that time to further develop the main plot, Privacy would have been better off. As it is, leading into it with a speaker derisively referring to CCTV monitors as voyeurs and psychopaths undercuts the film’s much more nuanced handling of Roopali’s past and its effect on her current mental state.
It’s too bad because there is a conversation to be had about surveillance and CCTV, how much is legitimately needed and how much is overkill. Unfortunately, this isn’t a discussion, it’s a lecture, one that overshadows the film’s rather interesting thriller elements. Privacy still might be worth a watch to those who don’t mind being lectured to, or who can tune it out and focus on the film’s story. But for me, while it was better than the likes of Division 19, it still fell far short of The Conversation and similar films that inspired it.
As mentioned, Privacy makes its debut at The Bucheon International Film Festival and will play the festival circuit while it looks for distribution. You can check the film’s website for more information. If you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can suggest a few titles.