Norms and perceptions define this world. Many of us abide by these preconceived notions or norms and consider them sacrosanct. We never question them. We never defy them. We simply take them at face value. We prefer to remain silent. Nishabd (meaning speechless), directed by Ram Gopal Varma, is a film that defies some of our conservative perceptions and also manages to beautifully demystify the feeling and angst that is love.
Sixty-year-old Vijay (played by Amitabh Bachchan) has a hiccup-free marriage with his wife Amrita (played by Revathy) and lives in a quaint little hill station in Kerala. Their eighteen-year-old daughter Ritu brings her friend Jiah (played by the late Jiah Khan) over to spend their summer break together. However, over the course of their stay, a unique sense of liking develops between Jiah and Vijay, which disrupts the entire foundation of Vijay’s home. Vijay is a man who is not easily impressed by things and doesn’t yearn to impress others as well. He is quiet and observant (perhaps due to his profession as a photographer). There is a calm, composed and mature disposition to him. It is his belief that everyone’s “viewpoint/perception” is the singular factor that differentiates us from each other. Jiah, on the other hand, is free-spirited. She is petulant yet precocious. She is determined and has a distinctive sense of individuality.
One of the most vital aspects of Nishabd is how delicately it has been handled. Not once has the love between Vijay and Jiah been shown in a voyeuristic manner. He likes her ‘spirit’ and is intrigued by her atypical thought process. There is no love at first sight here. There is a slow liking that develops as they get to know each other. The screenplay (by Kusum Punjabi) and dialogues (by Amrik Gill) have been intricately written such that they never cross the line and make the situation irksome or perverted. Instead, here we see a man who is reminded of his lost youth and his vitality when he interacts with a much younger girl. Through Jiah, Vijay vicariously feels young and starts to relish the feeling of happiness.
The film is embellished with numerous standout sequences. One of the most notable ones is the scene where Vijay is reminiscing the time he spent with Jiah and chuckles about it whilst in bed at night. Sans any words said, we inherently share his joy as he chuckles in bed whilst his wife is puzzled beyond reason. It is a fabulously envisioned sequence. Through this “nishabd” sequence, we see how he seems to have found a new zest for life. And it is this feeling of youth that he gained by being with Jiah. In one sequence, he syas that it is her youth that attracted him and not her “youthful body”. This is further detailed in an important sequence where Vijay explains that as we grow old, we gradually lose the capability to ‘enjoy’ happiness. By being with Jiah, he was able to ‘enjoy’ the feeling of elation and happiness. Thus, Vijay was enamoured of this new lease of life and resurgence of energy.
Maverick director Ram Gopal Varma masterfully constructed the scenes and the characters. There is a dull tinge of blue to the entire film, perhaps to evoke the feeling of monotony that Vijay may be going through. This is a radical decision because, it shows us that despite being surrounded by luscious hills and tea estates, there seems to be a sense of dreariness that prevails. Two aspects of filmmaking that particularly stand out are the cinematography and the background score. Amit Roy incorporates a feeling of flying through his cinematography. Several sequences, such as the tour of the tea estate and the sprinkler scene, have been shot in a manner that makes us, the viewers, feel as though we are gliding (maybe to try imitate the feeling of being in love). Amar Mohile has done a fantastic job with regards to the background score. There is a shade of playfulness and friskiness to the score, and at the same time there is a hint of thriller elements thrown in. A truly underrated score.
Nishabd is a film that is blessed with brilliant performances. Amitabh Bachchan plays Vijay with utmost sincerity and vulnerability. His helplessness for the feelings he harbours coupled with the sinking feeling of having destroyed every semblance of a good family life are all complex emotions that he conveys with complete ease. The late Jiah Khan is an absolute revelation. To go head-to-head against an iconic star like Bachchan in her very first film, and to carry it off in a believable fashion, is not a small achievement by any margin. There was a mischievousness in her demeanour that is incredibly alluring. Her demise was a sad loss for the industry. Revathy as Amrita, the doting wife of Vijay, gives an incredible performance. And, despite having a cameo appearance, Nasser enacts the role of the empathetic and understanding brother-in-law with absolute brilliance.
Nishabd puts forth some very important questions: are we conditioned to see most forms of love as just pure lust? Do our personal perceptions taint our view of the world? Is it wrong to always try to be young at heart? We do not have the answers to many of these and thus we choose to remain silent and ‘speechless’.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.