Sunday, March 04, 2007

Nishabd - Interesting, but not bold enough

People think I'm crazy when I name my favourite Ram Gopal Varma film. It's not Shiva (the original), not Satya, not Sarkar, not Company, not even Rangeela or Bhoot...but Naach - a film that tanked so badly at the box-office that no body even remembers when it was released. Even though this puts me in the company of maybe just around half a dozen people on this planet, I still stand by that movie. I've never come across a Hindi film so simple in terms of storyline, yet so complex and nuanced in terms of its texture and treatment. The relationship between the protagonists and their interaction is so cleverly and realistically unstructured that it doesn't seem like a film at all...

What the hell am I doing praising Naach, when I should be writing about Nishabd? Well, I see a lot of similarities between the two flicks. They don't seem to belong to the typical RGV genre (if there is any such thing); both the films are thin on plot and focus primarily on the relationships between the protagonists; and, most significantly, they both defy convention - either through the character of Rewa in Naach, or the storyline itself in Nishabd. Yet, Nishabd fails to dislodge Naach from the top of my list of RGV films. That's not to say that Nishabd is a bad film - not at all. In fact, I really liked the film. But while RGV, like his Howard Roarkian protagonist Rewa, stayed clear of any form of compromise in Naach, he seems to have compromised a lot in Nishabd - something one doesn't expect from a maverick like him. I'll get to the compromises later.

In my opinion, Nishabd is a fairly well-made film. RGV tackles an unconventional theme - I won't call it bold, at least not bold enough - with remarkable ease. The director uses his signature style of very tight close-ups to great effect. Of course, the camera cannot enter the minds of the characters, but it comes very close. Through every minute expression, every twitch of the facial muscles, it shows you what the characters are thinking and feeling. And if you have an actor like Amitabh Bachchan, that only heightens the impact.

The absence of a plot actually works to the film's advantage. The film moves forth in a languorous fashion, which can be irritating to some viewers, but for me it worked well. It gave me all the time to witness and reflect upon the events as they lazily unfolded themselves. It gave me the time to savour the subtle directorial touches. Yes, it also gave me enough opportunity to think about what could have been done differently. But that's precisely what I expect from a fulfilling movie-going experience - an opportunity to watch a movie at an emotional as well as a rational level: from the heart as well as the head.

The director opts for blue as the predominant color in the palette he uses to paint his vision of a May-November romance between his lead characters Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Jiah (Jiah Khan). Each and every scene, even when it captures the breathtakingly beautiful and lush locales of Munnar, is bathed in a blue hue. Now that's an interesting color for a tale like this. At the most obvious level, blue stands for romance and in that respect seems completely harmonious with the theme. If we really get into various kinds of symbolisms, blue also stands for virtues like truth, honesty and fidelity. And that's a delightful contrast from what we see in the relationship between Vijay and Amrita (Revathy). I can't say what RGV's real idea behind using this colour was, maybe I'm seeing too much into a device used merely to present a pretty picture, but to me it opens up a number of interesting possibilities.

Interestingly, elements of incongruity crop up in other areas as well - whether it's the quirky camera movement or the very out-of-character background music. While the story itself moves at a leisurely pace, the camera moves all over the place almost in an intrusive fashion. Ditto for the brilliant background music by Amar Mohile - the hammering, thriller-like background score is in perpetual conflict with the sensitivity of romance on the screen. I don't take these incongruities as faults, though I must admit they were quite distracting at times. I thought that the very fact that they were in stark contrast with the film itself was an interesting way to depict the inner conflict of the characters. Rules of conventional filmmaking would say that the camera movements and music should be in tune with what's being depicted on film, but when has RGV followed rules or conventions?

Now for the compromises - RGV clearly shies away from including any sexual angle to this unusual love story. Given the way the unashamedly voyeuristic camera (and to an extent the writing) has a field day presenting Jiah Khan as a sex object - the extra-short dresses, the wet scene (ah, this predilection of Hindi commercial filmmakers for showing heroines getting wet in a white saree!! Only, the white saree gets replace by a white shirt worn over an almost non existent shorts), over-emphasis on showing her naked legs, and Jiah Khan's defiantly sexual demeanour - it is certain that the director had all the intentions of showing lust as the trigger for the relationship, but probably had to compromise on that aspect because of the demigod status of his lead actor. This is one area where the disconnect between the technique and the content works to the film's detriment. The story would have been much more interesting and realistic if this aspect had been adequately explored. Much as I am in absolute awe of Amitabh Bachchan and think that his performance in Nishabd is one of his finest, I can't help admitting that his presence in the film dilutes the impact of the film. RGV clearly develops cold feet and refrains from adding any dirty thoughts into his male protagonist's mind; yet his camera is not quite convinced and continues to explore the baser emotions.

The other big compromise that RGV had to make also stems from trying to show Vijay in a more favorable light. There was no reason to add that monologue justifying/ rationalizing the attraction between a 60 year old man and an 18 year old kid - "an old man gets attracted to a young girl because he wants to hold on to his youth" - Phew!. I strongly believe that love, even when it is triggered by lust, does not always have a straight-forward reason, but is in fact a very complex psychological thing that cannot always be rationalized.

It is here that you just can't help thinking that the film definitely needed to take its title seriously: some things are better left unsaid – Nishabd.