Radhika is pregnant and the baby isn't her husband Nikhil's. Before she breaks the news to him, she imagines how he's likely to react. She runs through various scenarios in her head – will he turn suicidal? Will he humiliate her? Maybe he'll be violent… The film doesn't give us a definite answer as to how things pan out for Radhika and Nikhil. But through these hypothetical conversations, filmmaker Ram Madhvani deep-dives into a marriage that's falling apart.
Let's Talk released in 2002, 14 years before Ram Madhvani made Neerja, a mainstream Bollywood film with an A-list actress at the forefront. Let's Talk was a comparatively minimalist movie with English dialogues and two unfamiliar actors (Munna Bhai hadn't yet happened to Boman Irani). In 2002, some of Hindi cinema's biggest successes were Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, Sanjay Gupta's Kaante and Vikram Bhat's Raaz. Let's Talk released alongside Indra Kumar's Rishtey. This should tell you how much of an outlier it was in the Hindi film landscape of the time.
I don't remember the last time an Indian film showed a woman tell her husband that she wanted to dump him because he was bad in bed
After a recent viewing of Let's Talk, I wondered if it's still ahead of its time. If it were to release today, perhaps it would still be labelled 'experimental'. It was one of India's first digital films shot with a single camera and like Neerja, the takes are long. The entire film is set in a Mumbai apartment, the characters barely have costume changes and there's music but no full-blown songs. Nothing in the film feels scripted or staged. The performances appear improvised – as if the actors were making up the lines as they went along.
The film opens with the lead character Radhika (Maia Katrak) telling her friend that she's having an extra-marital affair with a man named Krish and that she's pregnant with his child. She then goes on to reveal that she once got pregnant with her husband's child, but didn't want to keep the baby. Before she could abort it, she had a miscarriage. She calls it a 'spontaneous rejection' by her body.
We may have come a long way in the 18 years since this movie was made, but are we ready for such flawed and complex women? That said, Madhvani was certainly ahead of the curve with his mature portrayal of Radhika – he treats her with empathy and no judgement. Instead the writing focusses on truly getting to the bottom of infidelity in marriage. The conversations between Radhika and Nikhil get ugly and hurtful. I don't remember the last time an Indian film showed a woman tell her husband that she wanted to dump him because he was bad in bed.
Madhvani strips the film of a traditional beginning, middle and end structure. We see back to back scenarios in which Radhika confesses to Nikhil, but what eventually happens to this couple is never spoon-fed to the audience. There's no 'happily ever after'. In an old interview, Madhvani explains that the idea was to base the film on a Thumri, because in thumri music you can sing one line in many different ways. That explanation alone should prove that this movie was ahead of its time.
In an old interview, Madhvani explains that the idea was to base the film on a Thumri, because in thumri music you can sing one line in many different ways
If there's one reason why you need to get hold of a copy of Let's Talk today, it's Boman Irani's superlative performance as the brash and volatile Nikhil. The film serves as a perfect showreel for all of the actor's skills. You're scared of Nikhil when he thunders with rage and marvel at how beautifully he sings 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' when his wife reminds him that he doesn't sing to her anymore.
With producers harping on how only big event films can pull people into the theatre, Let's Talk may not stand a chance even today. However, since 2002, the most significant development in how we like our entertainment has been the streaming platforms, and this brave film would be a lovely addition to one of them.