He’s mature, she isn’t. Yet under dire stress, they bond the way you would perhaps with a stranger on a desert island.
A likeable miniature of a movie, correctly clocking in at 98 minutes, co-writer-director Anu Menon’s Waiting draws you towards an odd couple biding their time in a spotlessly clean yet relentlessly cold hospital in Kochi.
Nope, they aren’t waiting for God (or Godot, if you like). They’re merely hoping against hope so that their loved ones are, somehow, retrieved from their deathbeds. Here’s a delicate plot premise, then, motivated by Menon’s own sense of personal loss: a situation which most viewers are likely to identify with.
After all, at some point, there are so many of us who have been confronted with the dilemma of murmuring, “Yes doctor, pull out the (ventilator) plug.”
Perhaps, Waiting doesn’t delve as deeply as she could have into the emotional holocaust involved in such an inevitable yet autocratic decision. Instead, as is her prerogative, the director opts to track that tense period of vigil during which every moment becomes an eternity. Mercifully the ageing, ever-optimistic professor (Naseeruddin Shah) and the tetchy, Mumbai girl (Kalki Koechlin), find a support system in one another.
The professor longs to bring the smile back on his wife who has been lying in a coma since eight months. As for the lately married Ms Mumbai, she can’t quite accept the fact that her husband may not survive the injuries sustained in a road accident. Slowly but surely, despite their disparate temperaments, the professor and the tetchy young woman connect, sparking endearing vignettes like the one showing them sliding into a dance as a vinyl LP plays on. Sweet.
At points, your credulity is stretched, though. The professor, who’s absolutely cricket savvy and has been boning up on medical journals, doesn’t have a clue about the impact of Twitter. Debatably, what does age have to do with awareness of the all-pervasive social media? Except to force in a gratuitous comment on the generation gap?
Also, the screenplay slackens towards the end. Moreover, it strays out of the hospital only too rarely, prompting you to crave for a far more generous serving of the Kochi locations. What there is of it, is lovingly lensed by cinematographer Neha Parti Matiyani.
Stray grouses apart, the insightfully etched ensemble of characters – matched by a flawless performance by Naseeruddin Shah and an exceptionally spirited one by Kalki Koechlin -- form the narrative’s sturdiest backbone.
Of the uniformly expert supporting cast, count Suhasini Mani Ratnam as the professor’s comatose wife, Anuj Mathur as the victim of the road accident, and Rajat Kapoor as a doctor who has to maintain his professional equanimity. Indeed, not a single slip of artificiality and inconsistency, can be detected from the entire ensemble.
Disclosing considerable growth from her first film – the eminently forgettable Ali Zafar-Aditi Rao Hydari roam-com London New York Paris (2012) – director Menon doesn’t cater to commercial tastes at all. That mandatory romantic frisson is conspicuous by its absence. A huge round of applause, then, for avoiding compromises. Or else, the low-key, observant style would have worked at total cross-purposes with the theme of human bondage.
Of course, the trade totalitarians would ask: But what use is a niche film which won’t rain big bucks at the cash counters?
Answer: A good film like Waiting which has a sensitive story to tell and has been made on a cost-effective budget, is abundant proof that cinema is about making money, sure, but not necessarily filthy lucre.
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