The best thing about Anu Menon’s Waiting is that the film has very limited aspirations. It neither claims nor carry any baggage of greatness per se. Consequently, the film may not boast so much about its crests but at the same time doesn’t suffer from any insufferable troughs. It wants to be and succeeds in becoming a performance driven drama. The scenes in the film are written and built up accordingly.
The premise of the film is about two people from starkly different backgrounds, age groups and personalities. Shiv (Naseeruddin Shah) is a 60 something pensioner with an academic background and 40 years of married life behind him. Tara (Kalki Koechlin) is in her twenties, married for six weeks with creative ideas in her head. Shiv is almost neck deep in financial troubles while Tara is utterly clueless about how even insurance works. Shiv has a composed personality while Tara is feisty. Their paths cross when Tara’s husband has an accident and is admitted to the ICU of a Kochi Hospital, where Shiv’s wife has been in a coma for nearly a year.
As mentioned earlier, the film derives its strength almost entirely out the skill and screen presence of the lead actors. Kalki Koechlin once again succeeds in bringing a sense of honesty and a rather unconventional sex-appeal to the role of Tara letting the audience warm up to her almost immediately. Her spontaneity is perhaps her most prized possession and she makes excellent use of it in Tara’s moments of grief, anger and joy which makes her spells of silent depression all the more compelling. On the other end of the spectrum is Naseeruddin Shah whose power and intensity that once defined a school of Indian cinema has given way to such poised grace a la Michael Caine! It’s sheer gratification to watch him perform on screen, holding back the coiled energy and relying more on the refinement and wisdom of his age and experience. And so when he lets go of that energy, such as in the pre-interval scene where Shiv and Tara argue heatedly about the slippery ethical grounds of life support system, the entire scene just gets elevated to another level altogether!
Throughout its runtime, these two actors manage to keep the film floating even when the lines and scenarios they are working with are quite mediocre. The central crisis and argument of the film revolves around the idea of waiting for the impending death and whether or not one should interfere with nature taking its course. However the film doesn’t really take off from this idea and thus the possibilities of a narrative are soon exhausted with the conventional tropes being played out one after another. Furthermore, the film is very weak formally. The sense of gloom in the characters and the grim uncertainties about life and death fail to leave any mark on the images. The shots in the film look bright, perfectly composed, smooth and shiny and gleaming at all corners. The despair doesn’t get reflected in them. In fact, other than the acting, none of the elements in the film show any tendency of going overboard or bursting apart. Everything is too controlled, too poised and too sanitized. In a film about death, it comes across as rather counterproductive.
On hindsight, Waiting is a film to be treasured just as a document for a pair of brilliant performances. Otherwise it is a film which will only appeal to the brackets of Nouveau Riche and the Upper Class who’d not like anything, including cinema, to disturb the status quo.
Arup Ratan Samajdar
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