Director: Hemant Madhukar
Indian films set abroad, featuring at least a handful of foreign actors, are already notorious for the way they alienate Indian viewers. The reasons for this are many, and it begins with language, which usually switches between English and the local Indian language, to ensure at least a few important dialogues get drowned out in the inability of one or more to perform in a foreign tongue. Then, there’s the context problem. When a film is set in god-knows-where, there’s no room for the audience to really connect with the people and the place, especially when there’s little the film does to explain the setting and the specificities of that place. And then, there’s the plot. Eventually, for a lot of Indian audiences who watch English films, there needs to be something the film addresses to get them to watch a film about Indians living abroad.
But Nishabdham is so generic a film that you can find+replace the Telugu-ness of its lead characters with Punjabiness, Russianness or even Martianness, and you’d probably get the same film. In a sense, it’s like the writer sat up one day and said, “let’s make a B-grade Hollywood thriller, but let the leads speak in Telugu or Tamil or not.”
Even then, a well-written thriller can be excused for a lot of things if, no matter how generic, it manages to “thrill”. But Nishabdham suffers from lack of focus, because it begins like a haunted house thriller. A man walks down to his basement to discover an elusive painting, and ends up crucified on a wall moments later. Decades pass, and the house remains untouched until a Colombian businessman rebuilds it, with several people working on it to bring it back to life. But hey, they didn’t once bother to go to the basement to see what really happened there, leaving the scary painting lying there for years together.
Don’t bother, because the film is hardly about this house at all. It’s about a mute painter called Sakshi (Sakshi, like the witness, get it) played by Anushka Shetty, who witnesses her fiancé’s murder in the same house. How wonderful is the idea that the witness to a murder cannot speak? Apparently, it’s no big deal because Sakshi can lip-read, use sign language and also communicate deep feelings using…Google Translate.
What about the other strand in the screenplay where we get a religious detective named Mahalakshmi (Anjali, trying really hard to roll her Rrrs) who is investigating this case amidst an already-serious case of women disappearing across Seattle? Well, you can’t really take her too seriously when her Captain is a man named Richard Dawkins (others call him ‘Dickens’), who is the unintentional spoof of every white cop we’ve ever seen in Hollywood.
It is quite a task to stay invested in a film where the plot points are constructed merely for shock value, rather than with any kind of coherence. Like a red herring that comes in the form of Sakshi’s friend. Her possessiveness is cited as the reason for her strange behavioural patterns, but the scenes that show us this aspect are so cringeworthy and done in such a hurry that you hope they were going for comedy.
With terrible performances, especially by the foreign actors, and a couple of subplots that struggle to fit in, Nishabdham is a film that leaves you speechless for all the wrong reasons. But, in all honesty, there is a film idea in there somewhere. Maybe write the part towards the end into a full-fledged film and name it “The League Of Extraordinary Cuckolds”, and that’s an original thriller idea I’d pay money to watch. This one is just a cold, lifeless corpse of a movie.