Director: Avishek Ghosh
Writer: Sudeep Nigam
Cast: Mohit Raina, Lara Dutta, Kanwaljit Singh, Neena Gupta, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Suhail Nayyar, Mrinal Dutt
The title card of Ishq-e-Nadan is written in Hindi and English, but not Urdu, the language from which it is being transliterated. This decision to reduce the language to an aesthetic, signalling poetry, perfume, and what-have-you is a sign of what is to come: A stretch of verse overlaid on visuals of characters walking past each other, lives crossing; empty, pretty words masquerading as meaning.
Ashutosh (Mohit Raina), who works at Blue Blossom Hotel, is grieving the wife he lost four years ago, until he runs into the industrious Ramona (Lara Dutta) who checks into both, the hotel and his weepy, poetry-churning heart. The shy Charulata (Neena Gupta), visiting her daughter from Indore grows close with the notorious, flirty Subhash Kapoor (Kanwaljit Singh), a lapsed filmmaker who lives in the same building. An aimless Piyush (Suhail Nayyar) meets ambitious Sia, a pregnant woman (Shriya Pilgaonkar) who has moved back to Mumbai after leaving her boyfriend in America.
Each actor brings an uncomplicated, effortless presence to the film, and it is somewhat the triumph of the acting that glazes over the writing, which is stuck thinking in types. The delivery is always conversational even if the dialogue is heavier. The twinkle in the eye is propulsive even if the reasons for it are starchy.
For the most part, this is the Mumbai of interiors — set inside palatial rooms, gilded hotels, colony parks, ice cream parlours. Not even one shot of the overexposed Marine Drive, sweating away with the lovers lounging on it. No attempt is made to give the city a beating heart. We are told it is summer in a conversation. The heat is entirely relegated to the dialogues. Each story is a clash of archetypes rather than personalities, and it is the butting of these archetypes that forms the crux of the film. Each archetype nudges the other into transformation — the flirty one makes the shy one embrace the opportunities that life throws at her; the weepy one makes the industrious one less afraid of failure; the aimless one makes the ambitious one realise that she, too, needs help. Two of the three threads tie up towards the end, the third one is left dangling; just a story with a remote, somewhat random connection. This is no Life In A … Metro (2007), despite the multi-starrer being shot entirely in Mumbai.
Even when the scene is indoors, the light coming in from the windows is so harsh, we cannot even see the city outside. It is a sealed-in world, incubating romance in its dull, sexless lap. It does not even poke at the open hearted humour it keeps hinting at. The “nadaan” of the title, meaning innocent, is more literal. There is no attempt at even stroking the fires of desire. Love is more comfortably portrayed as an idea that needs to be negotiated and articulated; as a trigger point. There is a sweetness in the interactions, each circling around the other’s insecurities without being vicious or sarcastic, but there is also a skimming simplicity that refuses to see a character as more than an idea.