Nishabd – A mirror or a smokescreen

Even as I begin to write this, I ask myself, “ Do we really need to take Nishabdseriously? It’s unconventional storyline – that of a sixty year old falling in love with an eighteen year old – is the next bold theme from the Bollywood dream factory. But, you can’t take this movie as dealing with a bold and/or unconventional theme. In my opinion, the movie assaults our imagination by going beyond artistic, if not moral sensibilities. Nishabd is a morality play and we, as a society, would do better if we treat it that way. I am personally appalled at the central thesis of the movie, let alone its Freudian subtext. I wonder what our children make out of this film. Even if one is not planning to watch the movie, the ‘promos’ are all over the place and you get to see it (and so do our children) even if you don’t want to. I think, we should not let this one go without a protest and so I write.

The idea of a sixty year old falling for an eighteen year old, let alone his daughter’s friend, is ridiculous. There’s no nice way to say this. It looks like both RGV and Amitabh are testing a private theory in public space. The movie is supposedly about “pure” love but it has only become a vehicle for displaying the female body image. It is not just the ‘age-factor’ here that is ‘ridiculous’ but rather the blurring of personal moral fences and the consequent collapse of familial relationships.

RGV’s creative intent has shades of American Beautyand Lolita(1997) but thankfully we are saved the disgust of pedophilia (maybe only because we aren’t ready for it as yet). In /Lolita/, Humbert is a middle-aged sexual pervert who romances a twelve-year-old girl. In /American Beauty/, Lester’s crush for his daughter’s friend is to escape the drudgery of life. In /Nishabd/, we are not told why the sixty-year-old Vijay gets involved with Jiah – his daughter’s friend. It is unfortunate that Ram Gopal Verma does not deal with the social and the psychological motives for this ‘destructive’ love (but for political correctness we can as well call it lust).

Why would the sixty-year-old Vijay fall for his daughter’s friend? If we go strictly by the storyline, the attraction is not physical/sexual. You can’t blame Jiah entirely. Vijay is not a sexual pervert. We are told that some love stories are never meant to be understood. The question is, “ Do we understand what love is in the first place?

Agreed, Vijay is not physically/sexually attracted to Jiah. But, you can’t deny the metaphorical sexual situations. Even as audiences slowly identify with Vijay’s vulnerabilities, RGV provides fodder for the male fantasy with the power of the visual. In fact, the physical/sexual motive is brought through the viewer’s perspective. Vijay’s ‘feelings’ extend beyond the film and this may set an unhealthy trend. What if audiences transform the ‘reel’ experience into ‘real’ life? Sexual abuse of younger women, particularly of teenage girls, is commonplace (remember the horrific Nithari killings). /Nishabd/ only advances a potentially dangerous idea.

I think we must see/ /it for what it is (and what it’s worth). It is a movie about inner struggles of a reclusive individual, his guilt trap and the consequent loss of life. Vijay is led to believe that ‘real’ life is elsewhere – outside a tried and tested marriage and trusted familial relationships. Blame it on Jiah but the loss of life is his own making. Vijay suffers from a perceived loss of life. He misses something and Jiah is supposedly the answer to the meaningless of life. But, why do we have to be constantly told that life (and love) tends to go stale within the confines of traditional/conventional marriage? Karan Johar’s /Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna/ (KHNK) also dealt with same theme. Nishabd, unlike KHNH, deals with the theme of finding ‘true’ love when you are happily married. Can we name Vijay’s feeling for Jiah as love? Is it a late-in-life infatuation or disguised flirtation (or both)? A thoughtless ‘follow-your-own-heart’ approach entraps him in a self-perpetuating guilt cycle. Vijay, like most of us, does not realize ‘feelings’ can be self-destructive. Vijay’s feelings for Jiah destroy him as much as it tears apart the once happy family. Vijay is unable to handle the guilt as much as he is unable to handle his vulnerability and he is driven to consider suicide. Worse, he decides to spend the rest of his life with memories of Jiah.

There is no need to be caught in the guilt trap and live your life as a prisoner of your fantasy. What does it take to start life all over again? Vijay desperately needs to forgive himself, as much he needs to be forgiven – by his daughter and wife. It is here that he falters. Vijay confides with his wife his feelings for Jiah but does not feel sorry for betraying their trust and for severing their relationships. Rather than seeking new life he decides to be drowned in guilt. I would have asked him to watch /Shall we dance?/ (2004) and may be Vijay can take a cue from John Clark (played by Richard Gere) on how he transformed his life as well as his marriage. It is unfortunate that Vijay does not seek to transcend and redeem an otherwise meaningless life. He prefers to treat the symptoms rather than deal with the disease itself. Vijay perfectly symbolizes our societal predicament.

Bollywood can function either as a smokescreen or as a mirror. /Nishabd/ works both ways. In Vijay, everyman finds himself. We are reminded of our desires, our inner struggles, our vulnerabilities, our fragility and our fantasies. If we are honest with ourselves, it isn’t easy to point our finger at Vijay. We live in a world of images. We also seek images to feed our fantasies (be it the reel world or in the real world). We turn to the Internet, magazines and movies to play out our fantasies. Few like Vijay get to deal with the vulnerabilities in real life.

The film not only points a finger at its audiences but it also raises questions: How do we deal with our ‘feelings’? How do we play out our fantasies? How do we decide between right and wrong? How do we cope with the perceived loss of life? The answers we bring to these questions will determine the future course of our society.

/Nishabd/ has sparked a debate. But, it is surely an opportunity for surgical intervention. Hopefully, the debate will lead us to the diagnosis of our societal dis-ease.

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