Nishabd is, as the title indicates, a movie constructed almost entirely out of silences.

As anyone who has seen the trailers or caught a bit of the endless coverage of Jiah Khan on television will know, it is about the relationship between a married 60 year old man Vijay (AB) and an 18 year old girl Jiah (Jiah) who is his daughter’s friend. Some love stories are not meant to be understood, the tagline says.

However, in many ways, the movie is not about this story, about this relationship. It is about who these people are, and the stories in their past that has brought them to this point in their lives. These stories are not told in the movie, but they are what give this movie its meaning and impetus.

It is not that he is trapped in a bad marriage. It just has become one where he finds that he has nothing to say anymore. Nothing that matters to him, anyway. And it is not that Jiah understands everything, either. Just that she listens. She, on the other hand, is the product of a broken marriage. Her dad has left, and her mom has found someone else. There is much residual hurt there, much anger, much longing. She doesn’t speak of it too often, but it underlines so much of what she does. He has learnt to retreat within himself over the years, to find solace in his passion – photography. She hasn’t had that much practice.

These are not stories that are elaborated upon or articulated by the characters. They let us guess at them through the things they say, and don’t say. Silences, like I said.

The movie has just three supporting characters – Vijay’s wife Amrita, his daughter Ritu and Sridhar (Nasser), his friend and brother-in-law, in that order. None of them has a single weak moment in the entire movie. Revathy plays Amrita as a woman who has, in many ways, lost the same things that Vijay has, but finds solace in her household routine. Neither of them sees the other’s loss – they just see what the other did or did not do. In a sense, that is the movie’s tragedy. Nasser plays the understanding friend who nonetheless advises him to do the right thing. Shraddha Arya has the least heavy lifting to do as Ritu, and is adequate.

Jiah is electric in her debut role. There isn’t a single moment when her inexperience shows – this is as close to a pitch-perfect performance as one can expect. Sadly, though, it’s mostly downhill from here. Unless she’s really careful with her choices, she’s gonna be playing some random hero’s arm candy or Emraan Hashmi’s latest femme fatale.

Amitabh was never a bad actor, but somewhere in the last few years, something has clicked into place. His roles have gotten more interesting, and his ability to play them so well has inspired people to make interesting movies with him. He has taken a nearly-dead market for people in his age group and breathed life into it. Say’s Law, as they say in economics: Supply creates its own demand.

Here, he creates a character that he could not have assembled from spare parts of other roles he has done. It’s not like he’s created an unrecognizable character from thin air, like Johnny Depp did with Capt. Jack Sparrow. This is still an Amitabh you can recognize. But the thing is, he embodies the character to such an extent that you are not reminded of anything he has done before when you see him in this movie. His

Which brings us to the director, Ramgopal Verma. Like with his other intensely personal venture Naach, he slows things down considerably and lets the characters take their time. A lot of directors seem to do this when they make something they really love – it’s like they want to savour the moment a bit more. Watch Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Ekalavya, or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black – same principle in action.

The other commonality seems to be the visuals – Amit Roy’s work here is definitely on par with what Ravi K. Chandran did in Black and Nataraja Subramanian did in Ekalavya. Less showy, but no less gorgeous. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the shot compositions. Watch the scene just before the interval, and how the camera pans in a certain direction and draws your eyes to something, yet doesn’t press the point by zooming in. Interesting choice, there.

The curious thing I noticed was how RGV seemed to have brought a horror movie sensibility to the way this movie was shot, chopped or scored (to borrow a Robert Rodriguez phrase). The way the background score keeps sounding premonitions at key moments, the way the camera moves relative to the action… It’s a strange strategy to adopt, but effective nonetheless.

Watching this movie, I wondered who put up the money to make it. There is no way on earth that this could become a commercial success in this market. It is concerned with these characters, content to let them be who they are. It doesn’t care that there might be an audience. Which, I suppose, is one of the reasons why it is so good.

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