Are Mr. & Mrs. Average ready for Nishabdh?
Alfie Doolittle’s theory on middle class morality is what India, with arguably the world’s largest middle class, lives and breathes. To expect this audience to digest and then appreciate a film like Nishabdh would be a real stretch. Probably why there were a total of 9 people in the theatre on a Saturday afternoon, the day after its release.
18 year old Jiah, (Jiah Khan) the product of a broken home, is house guest at her friend Ritu’s Kerala estate. Ritu’s father, Vijay (Amitabh), somber and quiet, is a 50–something photographer who is passionate about his art, but we discover as the movie unfolds, about little else, in particular his 27 year old marriage. Jiah is a free spirit, often childish and petulant. Circumstances throw them alone together, and there is an attraction which they both interpret as love. For her it is a bold and impetuous move, perhaps oedipal. For him it is part lust, part escape to the past, a window into the youth that he no longer has. Amrita (Revathy) is Vijay’s wife, a typical homemaker, complacent, trusting and secure in her life and marriage which is why all hell breaks lose for her emotionally when she discovers her husband’s shameful infidelity. Nasser plays Vijay’s friend and Amrita’s brother, the comforter and mediator.
There are no shocking, raunchy scenes, no songs, no knee-jerk reactions and not much change of scenery, though the Kerala countryside is a feast for the eyes. The three powerhouse actors are expected to carry the movie on their shoulders, and they do. Particularly Mr. B. There is a scene in which he has a laughing jag which is so infectious that I was laughing out loud without even realizing it – the true mark of a master of the art. Jiah Khan is very sexy and has brief moments (few and far between) of inspired emoting. There is definitely a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ lacking in the direction and the development of the storyline, though. It would take a director of the caliber of Shyam Benegal to give the script the full treatment it merits.
I was expecting a suitably Indianized Lolita, but saw some traces of American Beauty minus the blatant decadence in the very beginning. Though there are no steamy visuals, the theme is quite adult and is certainly not recommended for kids. (there was a couple with their 8 year old a few seats away…unbelievable!). That said, there is painstaking effort to steer clear of anything that could even remotely affect one’s sensibilities, to the point that the audience needs to have a very fertile imagination to pick up the subtleties.
Little wonder, considering the Indian cine-goer psyche which can take any amount of blood, gore and miraculous restoration of life and limb, but shies away from the first hint of realism, especially the kind that causes discomfort. Trouble is we take our ‘slice of life’ movies too personally. Everything on screen is ok as long as it can never happen to us.
Despite that, in the last decade we have allowed movies about divorce, single motherhood and couples living together. We have debatably transcended the barriers of religion, race, color and money. But age? That’s a pretty tall order. The next thing you know, someone will go and make a mainstream Bollywood version of Broke back Mountain… I can’t wait to see the reaction to that. As a friend said, these are movies that reflect the growing up of Indian Cinema, and are consequently only meant for a tiny fraction of the audience today. They should be released only on DVD, avoiding the big screen route altogether. And the people who can accept them without over-analyzing their social message will watch them and love them.