Drawn from short stories by Steinbeckian Indian author Sadaat Hasan Manto, adapter-director Fareeda’s debut feature “The Black Garment” has style and atmosphere, but a far too slippery grasp on narrative. As a result, seriocomic mosaic loses interest after a while. But it’s accomplished enough to continue traveling the fest circuit, and evinces enough talent to suggest helmer as one to watch.
Nominal protag is Sultana, a prostitute who’d prospered with pimp Khudabaksh in their small town. But moving to Bombay has proven a bad idea; despite her looks and guile, customers are few, while his hopes of becoming a professional photographer lead nowhere. Slim suspense is built around whether the now-broke Sultana can finagle a black garment she needs for a religious festival. But for most part, pic weaves hazily from one underdeveloped plot strand to another, with larger-than-life characters in the slum neighborhood including wise older prosties, an alcoholic-writer stand-in for real-life Manto, a local “godfather” who loses his confidence with his treasured mustache, et al. Pic benefits from stylized realism in production design and saturated-color lensing.