Lost’ directed by Aniruddha Roy Choudhury marks his return after a seven-year gap. The title ‘Lost’ is literal as it revolves around a missing Dalit street theatre activist during a police raid near Kolkata. It is metaphorical because it strongly refers to values, morals, emotions lost or sacrificed at the altar of ambition, greed, corrupt practices, and so on.

But is this clearly articulated? It is not and the viewer is expected to read between the scenes, as we read between the lines of a book, and understand what the script is trying to say. This makes the film a powerful statement on the decadence in values in contemporary politics in the country seen through the act of a young man who goes missing.

Lost’ begins with a committed crime reporter Vidhi Sahani’s (Yami Gautam Dhar) search for a young, committed actor Ishan Bharti (Tushar Pandey) who has gone missing. He directs and acts in street plays to raise consciousness among the people. He is not linked to the Maoist organisation he is suspected to be involved in.

Vidhi’s hackles rise because she discovers that the local police’s way of investigation is clearly biassed. The police avoid bringing his girlfriend Ankita Chauhan (Pia Bajpeyee) into the case. Vidhi is determined to find out what has happened to Ishan though she has never set eyes on him.

Vidhi’s character is fleshed out as a principled journalist not afraid of facing threats to her life, thanks to her close bond with her maternal grandfather (Pankaj Kapoor). He is a retired professor of Presidency College and Vidhi lives with him, away from her industrialist father and worried mother.

Her determination to find out what has happened to Ishan is triggered by Ishan’s extremely worried elder sister, and ailing mother (Sohag Sen). From them, Vidhi learns about his affair with the ambitious Ankita.

Ankita, Vidhi learns, broke up with Ishan when the local politician Ranjan Varma (Rahul Khanna), gives her not only a plush job in his office, and a spacious flat in a grand apartment complex besides promising her a rising career in state politics. It is this apartment which Ishan was last seen leaving.

Has Ishan been killed? Or has he been abducted by goons? Is the police compromised in turning the investigation in the wrong direction? Or, and the most scary eventuality, has he really become a Maoist?

The answers come across after dozens of car chases, fights, chases through the narrow lanes and bylanes of a Kolkata not seen in mainstream films. There are death threats stuck to the dashboard of Vidhi’s car gifted by her industrialist father. She has double-meaning talks with the commissioner of police (Arindam Sil) over cups of coffee in his office, and subtle interactions with Ishan’s ailing mother, angry sister and reluctant brother-in-law. Vidhi finds an unlikely ally at a corner tea-shop. There is the deserted metro station filled with the suspense of what will happen next.

Those scenes and more from the dargah in a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood, of the young boy who knows who Ishan is but not where he is now, are beautifully edited, spliced and cut through from one shot to another. This keeps the magic, speed and search alive, not allowing it to drag for a minute. Bodhaditya Banerjee certainly has another feather in his gifted cap.

Abhik Mukherjee’s cinematography deserves a top award because of the way he has captured not only the spirit of the city, but the narrow lanes and bylanes we are hardly bothered about, which throb with a life of its own. Mukherjee also captures slices of the sky to show it is the same world we live in. The shots of the bomb blasts used both in the opening and closing scenes of the film are incredibly realistic.

Roy Choudhury has kept the music (Shantanu Moitra) low key, which leaves the narrative concentric on the narrative though the sound design. The television news channels scream out the news, the editor (Suman Mukherjee) appeals to Vidhi not to turn into an activist from a journalist, which indeed she has become without quite being aware of it.

This comes across in the breaking point with her boyfriend Jeet (Neel Bhoopalam) who dismisses her focus on an ordinary Dalit boy gone missing and shocks her with his casual comment. Also, in her rude and arrogant interaction with her caring parents when they come visiting for a short period.

‘Lost’, all said and done, is an actor’s paradise the way in which every single character is fleshed out to create a definite concept, a known person, a complete personality, a world unto itself. This begins with Vidhi who lives life completely on her own terms, throwing everything she does not believe in out of the window.

It is a rose of a lifetime for Yami Gautam Dhar who has left no page unturned to give of her best. She was, till recently, considered a jinxed actor for feature films but she has proved herself in recent OTT films like ‘Dus, A Thursday’ and now ‘Lost’. But she is too impeccably styled in dress and hairstyle that does not match the speed with which she works, walks, drives and rushes into a police station manned only by men. Not a hair out of place.

Her rapport with her colleagues is vague. Pankaj Kapoor as her grandfather who cooks for her and steps into her room after knocking, fills her doubts with memorised quotes from the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, his reminiscences of his past history at the Presidency, his cold, calculated exchange with his former student Rajan Verma, his appeal to Vidhi’s parents not to interfere in Vidhi’s life lifts the film to a higher dimension which it might not have reached without this character and his performance.

Koushik Sen as the Maoist chief has a brief cameo, does it well. But his presence is not explained fully. The missing protagonist Ishan is portrayed extremely well by Tushar Pandey which gels well because he lacks an established star image.

Neil Bhoopalam is just right as Jit who learns to accept Vidhi with her choices and her terms of living. Piya Bajpeyee does well in her trapped role as Ankita who takes advantage of Ranjan’s attraction for her. But the attraction that pushes Ranjan to great lengths is not convincing though it is a pleasure to watch the suave and handsome Rahul Khanna after a long, long gap.

The twist in the tale is both a surprise and an open ending to a film noir that doubles up as a political and social comment and an action-centric thriller on the counter-environment our youth is being born and bred in. Ranjan Verma (Rahul Khanna) comes across as the modern-day, West-educated, soft-spoken and smooth operator which offers a glimpse into a man much more scary than the crude, arrogant, bragging political leaders we watch on our TV screens every hour. ‘Lost’ leaves the decision to its audience to conclude whether Ishan’s story ends in closure or opens up possibilities for the future.

It is a hybridisation of feelings of happiness and sadness – the way Ankita breaks down when everyone thinks Ishan is dead, Vidhi’s constant state of an emotional tension she sometimes feels is a trigger to move on while at others, she feels trapped in a vicious circle of trying to solve a mystery she knows little about. ‘Lost’ is a very well-thought-out and good film, and raises several questions it leaves unanswered.