Nail Polish movie review: Manav Kaul screams subtlety in a restrained and engaging psychological thriller

Nail Polish touches upon aspects of sexual violence rarely discussed in Hindi cinema or in Indian society at large.

Anna MM Vetticad January 01, 2021 15:12:37 IST

2.75/5

Language: Hindi

Rating: 2.75

Director Bugs Bhargava Krishna’s Nail Polish is a court procedural in the strictest sense of the term. Written by Krishna himself, Nail Polish is about a popular social activist, Veer Singh (Manav Kaul), accused of raping and murdering two poor migrant children and suspected of having killed dozens of others. The case is being prosecuted by Amit Kumar (Anand Tiwari), while the lawyer for Singh is a seemingly soulless rich fellow called Sid Jaisingh (Arjun Rampal). Judge Bhushan (Rajit Kapur) is hearing the case.

Krishna is an advertising professional and a familiar face as an actor. Not for him the “dhai kilo ka haath” style of Bollywood dialogues in a courtroom. In Nail Polish, he keeps the thunder and lightning, trumpets and drum rolls determinedly away, to deliver an appropriately understated, effectively low-key film.

The twist in this unusual tale is dramatic but presented without melodrama. No more information can be given since the element of astonishment is crucial here. You will have gathered from the trailer that the film deals with human psychology – “The mind commits the crime, the body takes the blame” are the opening words in the voiceover. This much can also be said: Nail Polish touches upon aspects of sexual violence rarely discussed in Hindi cinema or in Indian society at large. It does both the above in a pared-down fashion uncharacteristic of Bollywood, clinically, systematically and matter-of-factly chronicling the trial, revealing only bare essentials of the lawyers’ and judge’s backgrounds while giving Veer Singh a backstory with depth and detail.

The only time the film strays away from its purposefulness is with a needless albeit short song inserted into the narrative to recount a man-woman romance in a formulaic, cursory fashion. Since the man in the equation has already been elaborated upon, this motif serves the same purpose here that it serves in most Indian films resorting to it: in a virtually all-male world, it offers visual relief in the form of a pretty female face without investing in the characterisation of that woman (Samreen Kaur).

The woman in question is crucial to the plot but is written sparingly – the story remains, from start to finish, of and about men, notwithstanding nicely done asides about the judge’s alcoholic wife (Madhoo Shah) and the public prosecutor’s family.

Nail Polish movie review Manav Kaul screams subtlety in a restrained and engaging psychological thriller

Arjun Rampal and Manav Kaul in a still from Nail Polish.

Nail Polish is, despite that lacuna, noteworthy and interesting. The performances by all the actors are restrained and well-matched to the film’s unfussy style. Krishna clearly hasn’t forgotten that Rampal’s looks have a huge fan following, and with that in mind, he gives the model-turned-actor a lovely shot draped in a white towel, but is careful to keep the shot brief.

Manav Kaul deserves to be singled out for his exceedingly subtle enactment of a role that might easily have been reduced to a certain kind of Bollywood cliché but in his hands is not. The director too deserves kudos for not demanding a stereotypical routine from the actor – to explain further would involve spoilers.

Nail Polish does not dwell at great length on sexual violence, but the mere acknowledgement of an area of violence usually left untouched by Hindi cinema is significant. It does not deliver a PhD thesis on mental health either, but by not misinforming the public in the way too many Hindi films have done in the past, it serves an important purpose.

Most of the events in Nail Polish occur in Uttar Pradesh – I missed a local flavour in the narrative although the passing reference to the state’s politics is amusing. And after treating the viewer’s intelligence with respect throughout, it could have done without that last shot of Veer Singh’s face that overtly tries to suggest a reading of the situation to the audience. Overall though, Nail Polish is a smartly handled, intriguing, well-acted psychological thriller that comes as a pleasant surprise.

Nail Polish is streaming on Zee5. 

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