Two people, waiting.
This is an apt one-line description of a film about life, lasting love and impending loss which explores a zone Bollywood doesn’t bother with. Which is itself so refreshing that you want to champion the attempt, as well some of the outcome, even if it doesn’t hit all the marks, all the way.
Shiv (Naseeruddin Shah) and Tara (Kalki Koechlin) are unlikely companions in one of life’s most difficult journeys, as they count out days and nights in a Kochi hospital. They are waiting for a sign from their respective comatose spouses : Shiv from his motionless-for-several-months wife (Suhasini Maniratnam) and Tara from her recently-critically-injured husband (Arjun Mathur).
Will they be able to breathe on their own, walk out of the antiseptic rooms they are incarcerated in, surrounded by sterile machines and white-coated doctors wreathed in smiles which doesn’t reach their eyes?
Those are the questions Shiv and Tara wrestle with, the former with the stoic fortitude which comes from a long wait ; the latter, impatient, hurting, wanting to solve everything now, now, now. Shiv’s marriage has lasted for forty long years ; Tara’s for a few weeks. She’s amazed at the potentially long shelf life of a relationship she’s just got into; he smiles at her gently.
Both Naseer and Kalki are good fits for their parts in a film which segues easily between English, Hindi and a smattering of Malayalam : the nursing staff in the hospital is Malayali, as it is in most hospitals in the country, and it is a nice to see characters using a line or two in a language not their own to make a point.
And that’s also, paradoxically, the problem with the film. Not the occasional Malayali line, but the profusion of lines themselves. It is too explanatory, too talky : you want the characters to stop describing what they are feeling; you want some quiet so you can see them feeling, and feel right alongside.
Some of the most effective moments in the film occur when the two leads are allowed to fall silent, to just be in that moment, to loosen up. That’s when you really see them, sharing what it is like to be on the opposite ends of the age spectrum, yet bound by that hardest question : will he/she live?
A couple of the supporting acts are solid. As the good friend who arrives to hold Kalki’s anguished hand, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee stands out, as does Rajiv Rajendranath as the sincere, helpful colleague of the injured husband.
Kalki is a persuasive performer, making us watch, even if she comes off abrupt and forced in bits but that’s more to do with the way the part has been written. That’s something we can say for the plotting overall, which feels simultaneously underdeveloped and overwritten.
Naseer comes off best, and that figures because he has the most life experience. He brings a quiet dignity and heart-breaking resilience to a man who has walked alongside his companion – theirs has been a marriage of companionship and abiding affection– for a long time, and who doesn’t want to let her go.
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Kalki Koechlin, Rajat Kapoor, Arjun Mathur, Suhasini Maniratnam , Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, Rajiv Ravindranathan
Director: Anu Menon
Two and a half