Lolly & Pop
When the 60-year old hero looks towards the open door, out of which his 18-year old object of affection has just run out of after expressing her love, we are left with a pretty photograph of his wife in her prime, framed on the wall right beside that door.
A few scenes later, when the shocked wife shuts the door on him literally, the fallen hero stands in the corridor, halfway between a door that’s shut and another that’s open, with the girl anxiously waiting inside. If only the rest of ‘Nishabd’ was as subtle.
But for these two scenes of individual brilliance and maybe the final monologue, there is very little in ‘Nishabd’ that bears the stamp of the master filmmaker.
Not only does he make 18-year old Jiah wear very little, Ram Gopal Varma also tells us very little about what led to the unlikely romance in the first place. Yes, we know they spent a day out in the estates, pretty much like ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ and all, with photographer Vijay (Bachchan) finding reason to sing again, thanks to the arrival of his daughter’s friend Jiah (Jiah Khan).
There are things we must be told. Like, what was the first conversation the old man ever had with the girl who is his daughter’s age. It begins on an interesting premise, with what could also be a one-line self-explanatory excuse for having shot the film the way he did, Varma makes the photographer say: “It is not necessary that the rest of the world sees it through my perspective.”
Brilliant. But, moments after that first line of serious conversation they’ve ever had, Varma decides it’s not important to tell us what they spoke about next. He increases the background score and shows them talking. Lazy screenwriting or weak direction?
What we see more of is a skimpy Jiah getting wet endlessly, pouting like a Playboy pin-up with her index finger in her mouth, and sometimes, with a lolly, perhaps the perfect metaphor for the entire romance.
The kid can’t act for nuts and even if her accent that swings from American to Australian does not distract, her favourite catch-phrase does. “Take light” sounds more like tapori-speak from ‘Rangeela’ than something that a sophisticatedly rich, foreign-raised brat would say. But then, like any teen who knows her pavement shopping in Dharavi, she also sports a hand-bag with big block letters: L-O-V-E.
No doubt Jiah is a pretty photogenic bombshell, but there is a difference between making her look innocently sensuous and professionally raunchy. While Vijay’s own photographs bring out that innocence of a teen having fun with a hose-pipe, Varma’s own frames throughout the film seem pretty distracted by her anatomy. It’s also another thing if Varma’s intention was to tell us that it was lust and physical attraction that led the old man into grey territory.
But he insists it is that purer emotion called love.
Full credit to Amitabh Bachchan’s finely sensitive portrayal of that angst of falling for his daughter’s friend. But Varma lets him down drastically, using silly jokes borrowed from SMS forwards as ice-beakers between the couple. And the more important conversations consist of her stilted dialogue delivery followed by long pauses and predictable monosyllabic answers from Vijay. If he wants us to understand their predicament, Varma ought to tell us more. The intensity of the romance appears watered down by weak screenwriting. As a result, the entire episode comes out looking like an old-man hopelessly infatuated by a teen with a juvenile crush on him.
Equally annoying is Varma’s way of hammering down what is implied and understood as he makes Jiah ask Vijay: “Do you like my spirit?” or her telling her best friend “I don’t recognise boundaries” during a tiff over her metaphorical ‘foul’ play during a game of badminton or Jiah asking Vijay: “What is black and white at the same time?” and actually making her say it: “Nothing.” Yes, yes, we got it in the first place, it is not radio-drama, Mr.Varma.
Revathy stands dignified in an otherwise sketchily etched out film, Bachchan emotes with all his heart and Nasser lends a little maturity to a support role. The camerawork (Amit Roy), probably intentionally quirky and at times lucidly metaphorical, only distracts an already wandering narrative. Amar Mohile’s score haunts, thanks to Vishal’s melody of ‘Rozana’ – the only song finds no place in the film.
Somehow everything seems too rushed up and hurried with unrealised, pregnant potential.
Or maybe, we are reading too much from a shallow script that might have worked just right for a 10-minute short.