Saturday, March 3, 2007

Silence- Not Golden though...

It would be really interesting to draw parallels between Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) in Hindi and Jayaraj in Malayalam- Rather than their diversity of films, these directors cook each of their movies focusing on either classes or masses, never both. In doing so, they have the advantage that there is little need of compromise- in commercial terms. For instance, if they don't want to have songs in a particular film, they can have that luxury without being forced by producers, as in the case of most of their contemporaries. Yet in their filmography, one finds brilliant films, mediocre ones and real duds. So, what goes right/ wrong with their films? My answer is that they remain completely truthful to the screenplays they get. They'll give the best possible screen adaptation to the written script- but there it stops. Never expect miracles from them with a weak screenplay nor contributions from their part to make it powerful. Hence, in the hands of these gentlemen, a good screenplay gets translated into a brilliant film whereas a bad/ mediocre one becomes a run of the mill flick.

This is the reason why I never have my hopes raised for RGV films despite all the pre- release hype and sleek trailers that rule the channels for years, maybe. From experience, I know that the film can swing to either of the superlatives. So I didn't anticipate much when RGV started shooting 'Nishabd' in Munnar almost 2 years ago or when its release was announced. But, a week prior to release, something happened (which we will deal with later) which raised my hopes about the film.

'Lolita' (the 1997 adaptation of the novel with Dominique Swain, not the 1962 one by Kubrik) has been one of my favorite love stories. The storyline of Nishabd was rumored as inspired by 'Lolita'. In fact, there is no Lolita at all in Nishabd. I sensed a little bit of 'American Beauty' (where the object of the man's "obsession" was his daughter's friend- nowhere else). I also heard that it draws inspiration heavily from 'Poison Ivy', which I haven't watched. The writer (Kusum Punjabi) and the director has made the protagonist's relationship completely devoid of physical attraction, thereby freeing themselves from possible charges of portraying Pedophilia and Nymphomania, which would later have led to numerous Shivsena/ Bajrangdal agitations. And, of course, there is nothing wrong in a love story sans sexuality.

Spoiler warning: Explicit details of plot and ending scattered all around.

The film starts with a piteous Vijay (Amitabh Bachhan, AB) telling us- later we learn that the narration is not to us, but to his brother in-law (Nasser)- that he has taken the decision of ending his life, not in haste, but after much cogitation. In the flashback we see how Jiah (Jiah Khan) enters the quiet life of wild life photographer Vijay and his wife (Revathy) as their daughter's friend on a vacation. The kid of a troubled marriage, she behaves oddly in every possible way- be it the carefree air she carries around her or the arrogant dominance she imposes on everyone else. Gradually Vijay and Jiah happen to spend more and more time together and get to "know" (Do they? I doubt) each other until the inevitable occurs- they "fall in love".

Vijay's daughter comes to know about this and hell breaks loose in the family. Vijay admits his "affection" towards the girl. Then, within some 10 minutes (of both real life and screen time) a huge transition takes place in Vijay and he scolds Jiah off the house. The hapless girl is left with no option but to find solace in her love- smitten boy friend (Aftab). The man's existence thereafter turns wretched in front of his wife and daughter which ultimately brings him to the decision of taking his life. But, he is not able to do even that.

Well, I would like to congratulate RGV on a couple of things. One is for involving the protagonist's family. The story could have been told much more easily (in an escapist way) if the lovers were left alone in their world. On second thoughts, it is an instinctive choice in an Indian (read Bollywood) film since we are so hopelessly used to it. Another is the cast. Revathy and Nasser won't be the natural choices in a Hindi film. But both fitted perfectly in their roles.

Unfortunately, I would almost end my shower of praises here and classify Nishabd as another well made RGV film, but, one made out of a weak screenplay. As firstly, the creators couldn't make up their minds as to whether to include physical attraction in their love story or not. They entirely lift the famous garden hose bathing scene from 'Lolita' with Vijay taking the photos of the drenched girl- the first time when he develops an attraction of any sorts for the girl, which is then more of professional interest. Nowhere else do we find references of bodily attraction. Ofcourse, there is nothing wrong in this- if you have something stronger than physical affinity to bind the relationship.

But Nishabd becomes a big letdown in dealing with the relation between the man and the girl, which, ironically, should have been its highlight. I agree- it is not necessary to spoon-feed the audience every nuance of how the love blossoms. But they should at least feel, "Yeah, these people are in love". Here I would like to clarify my stand. I don't belong to that category of people who came out watching the film with the feeling, "It is so unrealistic…How can a 60 year old man be in love with an 18 year old girl?" Even RGV took an anticipatory bail in the punchline, "some love stories are never meant to be understood". In my belief, most love stories are so- they defy all logic. And, I have no problem in accepting love affairs between people of any age and gender. Going a step further, it's ok even if it is between a lady and an animal (King Kong), an ogre (Shrek) or a beast (Beauty and the Beast). But here the problem is that there is no credibility in the way the relation proceeds. You are never told what the girl seeks in the man. Of course, AB looks charismatic and charming enough for women of any age to fall in love with. The girl highly insecure, with a divorced mother and new stepfather might have found a caring parent in Vijay. Or may be it's just an adolescent infatuation fantasy. Perhaps, it is due to all these. But again, sadly, no one has bothered to "develop" this part.

The portion I liked most in the film is the humiliation Vijay experiences in the house- the disdain shown by his wife and daughter towards him. It is a very natural situation one would face once a secret wish of this kind is divulged. He will be seen as a pervert till the end of his life. So no one blames Vijay for his decision to end his life. But the explanation for this is given in the very last dialogue of the film, which spoils everything credible the film had built till then. He says he couldn't die, not because he is afraid of death, but because he wants to live as long as possible with Jiah's memories. Now, that was something much over-the-top. We may agree he had an inclination towards the girl, mainly due to her interest towards him. But nowhere else other than this last dialogue do we get a hint that his feelings were so strong. A kiss, a footsie, an "I love you" do not speak much about the strength of the relationship A flaw in the poorly developed script.

Vijay is also shown as an extremely passive character waiting for situations to take him. Most of the time, he looks confused. When his brother-in-law asks him about Jiah, he admits strongly that he is in love with the girl. He is even ready to confess this to his wife and scold his daughter very harshly. Then within minutes, he shows the same strength to ask Jiah to get out of the house. So for a maximum of 20 minutes, he shows his strength of character. For the rest of the movie he is just a puppet. Here I am not blaming the creators- in fact Hindi films require such weak characters.

One sequence that many reviewers found as highlight in the girl playing footsie with Amitab. He bursts out into laughter. This laughter resonates even hours later amidst his sleep too, which leaves his wife clueless. The laughter is so prolonged that at some point, the audience will also join it. (A technique used by Siddhique through Srinivasan in Malayalam film 'Friends' long back.) But I really doubt whether the reaction is laughter when someone plays footsie on you in such a situation. Another thing that raised my eyebrow is the servant's name. The deaf man is always addressed to as Mandan as if he was christened so. Did RGV think that Mandan is a popular name in Kerala and thereby tried to ensure a local flavor? He should have watched Dil se (He was one of the executive producers) where Priety Zinta explains lucidly, "Mandan mathlab Idiot, Gadhha, Donkey- MANDAN". It was even more weird to hear Revathy, a malayali shouting the name.

The backround music was nothing highly commendable. I don't think it is anything great since it hasn't lingered in my mind for days, as it did for say, "Company". Technically the film excels. Munnar is made so picturesque through processing and color correction that one seldom feels it is Kerala, or even India.

Amitabh, as said already, looks great. But most of the time, I had doubts whether I was watching Vijay or Amitabh (May be due to his overexposure via media). Jiah (probably, the only contribution of Nishabd to Indian cinema) looks gorgeous. She has carried her character with a Lolita- like (Dominique Swain-like) arrogance which at times reduces even AB to a background prop. But at certain places, she too stumbles, thanks to the weak script. Revathy's balanced melodramatic reaction on knowing about her husband's affair is worth commenting. Nasser balanced the brother-in-law, uncle and friend in his character with ease. Shradha Arya, as the daughter does a very good job, mainly because her character had fewer faults. Aftab delivers what he has been asked for.

Back to a point I hinted at the beginning- the only factor that sowed seeds of expectation about the film in me. It was the song "Rozana" composed by Vishal Bharadwaj(himself an accomplished filmmaker) and rendered surprisingly beautifully by Amitabh. If you want to experience what obsession is, what passion is, how 'one lives in the memory of someone else everyday', hear this song. The song, which could have elevated the emotional intensity of the film,was not included in it.My greatest disappointment when walking out of the cinema hall was that the film wasn't able to touch any of the emotional chords this simple 6 minute song had touched in me. Dear Vishal, You should have done this film...

[Thoolika- March 2007]