Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nishabd - Silencing the Sensual

c s venkiteswaran

If Nishabd is an adaptation of Lolita, Ramgopal Varma's film version is 'marriage' compared to 'love' that is Nabokov's novel. It is a very visually appealing film that does not dare to take the plunge into the sensual.

The film begins with the 60 year old photographer played by Amitabh Bachan standing at the edge of an abyss, obviously contemplating suicide. He doesn't take the plunge but lives on to tell the 'story' of his doomed love. True to the proper traditions of Indian cinema in this film also, such love is something that is available only verbally and cerebrally rather than sensually or physically. For, the love of a 60-year old man with an 18 year old is doomed from the beginning within its narrative world. It is fated for damnation and its consummation is eternally postponed, with the girl ultimately gifted back to her young lover of appropriate age. (Even while one appropriate family is made thus, his is shattered by her). The most vulnerable and weakest part of the film is the portrayal (or lack of it) of the sensuality involved in their relationship. Except for the first voyeuristic forays into her body-sights, followed by a trip to the estate, super market and an improptu dance in front of the family, all of which are decent and 'proper', the film is denuded of any indication at the physical and the sensual.

Following the 'decent' traditions of Indian cinema, the film displaces all the explosive potentials and the lures of the flesh turning it into the guilt-ridden confessional mode of a monologue of a brooding protagonist. All the physical sensuality is systematically displaced onto the verdant greenery of the landscape and the dizzying camera work that weaves itself around and caresses structures, objects and characters. What could have been a devastating comment upon the total self-denial that family demands from individuals turns out to be an apologetic glimpse into the abyss: obviously, he is only a shell of what he wants to be and his wife is someone who has sacrificed her dancing career to the demands of the family. So, what could have been a heart-wrenching paen to love and pleasure-seeking, turns out into a public purgatory of guilt.

It is this 'self-restraint' and the economy of guilt within which the film works, that makes Nishabd yet another marriage, one that caresses possibilities but consummates none.

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