As I walked into a theatre for the star-studded premiere of National Award winning director Srijit Mukherji’s Nirbaak on a hot Friday evening in Andheri; I decided to keep my fondness for some of his earlier movies at bay. I had mixed feelings and expectations after watching the trailer; so I settled down on the comfortable sofa and let the film do the talking.
So, what’s common between a dog, a tree, a corpse and a narcissist? The answer is love — silent love. Love binds these four stories together by a common thread, in the form of Sushmita Sen. The hyper narcissist, played by Anjan Dutta is the story of Samson, an old loner who is so self absorbed that he smooches as well as masturbates to his own reflection. He spends hours looking at the mirror lovingly, appreciating himself, taking really long luxurious soapy baths and then spraying self with half a bottle of deodorant to last a lifetime.
He is the kind of narcissist who celebrates his birthday by not just singing the ‘happy birthday’ song alone but also by lathering his face with a cake. The only person he interacts sometimes with, is a young woman who sits everyday under a big tree at the park, played by Sen.
The second love story is between this tree and Sen. The big, shady tree is the one under which she finds tranquility everyday; while fighting with the boyfriend on texts or while taking a quick afternoon nap. The voyeuristic nature of the tree is clear when we see Sen sitting, from a top angle, through the sun-bathed leaves. The leaves sway furiously while watching Sen sleep, as her dupatta flutters away in the breeze. She wakes up startled after a while and looks up lovingly at the tree that made her feel comforted. If you thought that the love story between a woman and a tree was too much for you to take, then let me tell you that the director doesn’t stop here. Once she gets up and walks away, we see the bark of the tree secreting a white juice, shortly after which a ripe fruit splashes on the ground with a bang. Symbolism at its best? Well, I heard the young Bengali girl sitting beside me nudge the boy beside her and whisper,”Oma, eta ki holo? Is it…?” followed by nervous giggles. (Oh, what was that? Is it?) You can almost tell that the middle class Bengali, or should I say Indian, audience is not yet ready for such metaphors in our films. Shortly after that, when Sen kisses her boyfriend Rahul (Jisshu Sengupta) sitting under that very tree, it suddenly starts raining. And along with the tree, you want to cry too, but you don’t.
Sen moves in with Rahul in Mumbai and is greeted by a golden Labrador who isn’t happy to see her at all. The dog, who is in love with Rahul, is the best actor in the entire movie. The jealousy, the possessiveness for his master, and the attack on the ‘other woman’ makes for a delicious plot and if it is ever made into a full-fledged movie, will surely find a keen audience in me.
The last story is a bizarre love story where a sociopath morgue worker (Ritwik Chakraborty) falls head over heels in love with Sen’s cold dead body and imagines all the things they can do together as a couple. This is probably that part of the story that will fetch the maximum cringe from the general public because of its high shock value.
Nirbaak, which means speechless in Bengali, has so much of silence and complexity in the entire film, that it isn’t a film for the weak-hearted. I give it to Mukherji for experimenting and being completely unapologetic about it. There are moments that really stay with you–be it the sociopath blasting ‘Tujhe dekha toh yeh jana sanam’ from his cheap mobile phone after seeing Sen’s lifeless body for the first time, or the dog watching the couple make love on the bed and getting increasingly uneasy, or Sengupta taking off his belt to hit his beloved dog in a drunken rage.
Sen shines in some parts, but is mostly average. I’ve personally liked how Sengupta has evolved as an actor with time; and has done his part well. Anjan Dutta is well, Anjan Dutta, though watching his potbellied body, wearing only an underwear in almost all the scenes, is not something that can be pleasing to the eye, that too on the big screen. The music by Neel Dutta is good and the cinematography by Soumik Halder shows my beloved city Kolkata beautifully.
Nirbaak is ahead of its times; something that will force you out of your comfort zone and take a long, hard look at reality. It isn’t great cinema, but it could’ve been.
(Note: The review was originally published in The Huffington Post on 18th May 2015)