I watched Nishabd despite reservations against an Indian adaptation of Lolita. I was scared of a 'justification' for the love/lust that a 60 year old man would feel for a 18 year girl. I have also had enough of the crap that Amitabh Bachchan regularly doles out in his latest garb as a serious actor/star playing his age.
Ram Gopal Verma has been 'off my watch list' since Company despite the credible Sarkar in between.
Nishabd is minimal film making in exhibition and it worked for me. The film limited to four characters and focussed on just two, is a clever adaptation. Lolita or American Beauty or Joggers Park, whatever its inspiration or starting point, the movie in review was quiet a treat in how it unfolds.
Jiah is an Non-Resident Indian(NRI) girl from a broken home. In hindi film parlance the alien or un-Indian/hindu/pure girl and as is expected of her she falls in love with a 60 year old Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay. Vijay, is the father of her friend in whose estate she is holidaying. Jiah's characterization (in the face, bindaas, cocky) worked out reasonably for me though it was rather clumsy to start with.
One does not expect our stars to act, all we expect them to do is be starry with a bare minimum of impersonation to fit into their characters. And so it is always been difficult to judge/appreciate our actors capabilities, whether it is the star charisma working or is it incisive character understanding that resulted in the performance. So can Jiah act/act well is a herculean question, a result of the growth of idiosyncretic film making for over a hundred years. It also is a difficult proposition as the movie is about Vijay, about the flipping over of regular householder at an advanced age, and it is Vijay who we always watch, Jiah is well just the catalyst for his transformation.
The movie is about Amitabh's virtuosity (skill, fluency, or style exhibited by a virtuoso) or the closest he will get to it in this second innings. He towers over the film like a collosus. I think it is a great role for him and there is always a question whether an actor is capable of 'full justice' or is it merely a matter of subjectivity. Getting back to my point, it was exciting watching him challenge himself and he turns in a good day.
There are some expressions that stay with you much after the movie is over. For instance when Vijay sees Jiah first, his look of fascination at Jiah's unconventionality, cockiness and her audacity. With the unveiling of the various shades of the 'girl-woman', we see the smitten Vijay turn into a child, an individual soul, losing sense of reason and balance, turning into himself to savour the pleasures of a virginal mind.
There were issues with the film and I have a few of my observations. The manner in which Jiah's sexuality has been presented is an unsophisticated blunder of mighty proportions. Grace never was the hall mark of 18 year old girls and the world would like us to believe that women achieve grace with experience, refinement especially for those who lack it. Jiah can be called anything but graceful. But even the awkwardness, the sheer physicality of a young woman has grace or better put, its saving grace. Jiah is dressed atrociously, even by contemporary teenage fashion sense. I know it is the peroragative of the director as to what kind of look he wants to give his actresses (an important entry point of the director into an actresses personal space for use and abuse). In this regard it is unfortunate that we live in a culture of denial and with film makers of revolting sense of erotica and sensuality. Jiah's clothes jarred for me through out, it was embarrassing. And let me assure you that I am no prude by even Dutch standards and skin is something I revel in but on screen it has to be aesthetically (for want of a better word) done. Raw sensuality too is equally appealling and such sensibilities are better of in the hands of the perverted rather than that of our anti-intelligent film makers.
The other mention I wish to make is more a personal reaction rather then a critique of Nishabd. As mentioned earlier I am, as liberal as liberals get and all for individual rights being asserted in matters of love and relationships. But I found Vijay's shirking of filial responsibility extremely reprehensible. I am of the opinion that duties should be taken seriously and in terms of Vijay, the character, I had only scorn and ridicule for him. I know this is rather contradictory in terms of my pretensions to liberal artistic intellecualism (Books and Movies). I was surprised by it too and I am yet to discern how much of my personal circumstances were actualizing that reading or is my age-duties argument a reflection of the conservatism that middle age and responsibility fosters on even hard core revolutionaries and anarchists?
Nishabd is a neat film, with no song and dance about it, literally and metaphorically. There is nothing embarrasing about Amitabh Bachchan's impersonation of Vijay unlike Black. In an understated manner Vijay, reacts to the girl, developes affection for her and gets carried away by her desire for him.
Jiah is foreign to the 'pure' woman, hindi films mean our actresses to be. And while there have been many characterizations in the past and in our times which go against such conceptualizations, it remains a fact that a NRI coming from a broken home will not behave in the socially amenable manner. A broken home has heavy connotations for our film writers as we see that the social world of Vijay, his wife Amrita and daughter is turned upside down by this hormonally charged waif. Would the same events take place if the character of Jiah came from Patna and from a 'happy' middle class family? Arguments about modernity/tradition, individualism/respect for elders are something I am familiar with but there are obvious nuances that are missing in such dual conceptualizations.
Ramu kindly spares us moral lessons, in conformity with his reputation of doing what has not been done before. However, cocky that Ramu is, he acknowledges the traditional set up. Vijay's brother-in-law comes calling, at just the cinematic moment when the two lovers verbally consummate their love and the daughter witnesses it.
The choice of Naseer, a South Indian (Telugu/Tamil?) actor is extremely telling. He is mostly cast in strong character roles. I have only seen him used in Hindi films by Ram Gopal Verma and Mani Ratnam. I also remember him from Criminal. Naseer does not have much of a role but his introduction served a few purposes for tradition. The film conveys that with Vijay, in love with his daughter's friend, is turning back on his role of a father and husband, that omnipresent-omnipotent male figure who maintains a household. A household cannot be left to women. But with Naseer around, mostly hovering about the set up, that problem is solved. As I said, clever that the adaptation is, Naseer does not do much. He interacts with Vijay as a friend, rather than as a brother-in-law. The second use of Naseer is to see through the storm that the family undergoes. Vijay is incommunicado due to his current state of mind (shame?) and his traditional role of a husband and a father, a provider/protector and a tough emotionless men (emasculated sexuality/masculinity?). So with Naseer, the audience is assured of the maintainace of social order as well as provides the communication channel for the messages from the wife-husband, daughter-husband. I am inclined to think this was a back handed pat by Ramu to breaking through stereotypes while attesting to their reality.
Lastly, cynical that I am, my confusion regarding the emotion/love between Jiah and Vijay. I sat through the movie without asking such difficult questions else the whole movie will appear preposterous to someone like me. Now, since I am writing about it, these questions raise their cynical heads, love or lust? Or is it the hindi film abuse we are attuned to, that our heros do not lust, lusting is for the likes of Shakti Kapoor. Our hero's only love (once) and love to the point of sacrificing themselves or dying for their lovers....rather than moving onto the next pretty thing in the way.