Nirban movie review: Despite a powerhouse act by Rakhee, Gautam Halder's promising film comes up short
Had the script been tighter, Gautam Halder’s Nirban could have found some semblance of cinematic salvation. What it ends up being, instead, is one big bore.
Nirban, or Niravana – The Salvation, is a film by Gautam Halder that has a very interesting and relevant premise. But as with any art, it is not enough to merely have a good story. Neither does it suffice to have a veteran actress shouldering the weight of the film. And finally, no matter how brilliant your technicians are, their mere presence in the project does not guarantee a good film as the final outcome.
Filmmaking is a collaborative art, as in the individual efforts of a few good men and women need to come together to create a singular, unified and beautiful piece of art that can only be so close to the vision of the director. In Halder’s case, despite having the best of crew, cast and — I am sure — the best of vision too, Nirban never quite manages to grip you and make you think.
Halder’s film is based on a short story titled ‘Bijolibalar Mukti’ (The Salvation of Bijolibala) by veteran Bengali writer Moti Nandi. In the film, yesteryear actress Rakhee plays the role of an elderly lady who lives in North Kolkata. Fondly referred to as Mashima (aunty) or Dimma (granny) by one and all, she is the epitome of the agony aunt and Samaritan saviour.
While ensuring the salvation of those who are in trouble, she herself seeks salvation from the circle of life and karma. At the same time, she can be staunch and orthodox in her beliefs. At the final crossroads of her life, when she is faced with a predicament that tests her ideals, it is to be seen if she can rise above the pettiness of social norms and tell right from wrong.
The first and biggest problem with Gautam Halder’s film is that it takes an inordinate amount of time to establish the setting and the context in which the story is supposed to flourish.
This process is so long, the characters so repetitive and flow of events so excruciatingly slow, that after a while, it becomes impossible to remain invested in the film. The first half of the film totally lost me as a member of the audience, which is why, by the time things did start to roll in the second half, I had neither the patience nor the ability to focus on what was happening on screen. This is sad, because the majority of the story — correction, almost the entire story — unfolds towards the end of the film. This clearly unwise decision of making the skew peak towards the far end of the film literally ruins the entire film-watching experience. Because by the end of it, nothing matters.
Needless to say, this is totally the writer director’s fault, because barring one or two misfires, the performances are top-notch. Bidita Bag has a natural calmness and elegance that reflects off her countenance, and she is superbly cast for this role. Bag’s greatest talent seems to be the ability to emote successfully without having to say line after line of dialogue. In a remarkable scene, when she is asked to don an attire for the household ritual, her hesitation is beautifully conveyed. A fine, nuanced performance.
In contrast, Chaiti Ghosal’s performance seemed quite overdone to me. The scenes in the present, in which she is confined to her bed, may still have some saving grace in them, but the flashbacks, in which she gives a loud and over-the-top performance that is best suited for the opera has no business being in the cinematic medium. I also felt that she had precious little to do in the film, and was perhaps trying to pack in as much power into her infrequent scenes as was physically possible for her. As expected, her strategy misfired. Refer, once again, to the dictum that cinema is collaborative medium of expression. There is no room for personal ambitions here.
The star of the film, however, is Rakhee. It is so joyful to see that even after so many years, she commands each and every single frame in which she appears with so much grace and ease. She knows the camera so well, that every tiny gesture, every action, every single breath she takes is done to perfection. Which is what made me sad by the end of the film. What a colossal waste of such a powerhouse actress! Because despite her best attempts, and despite the vividly sincere devotion with which she had approached her role, she could not make us feel for her, and it is not her but the screenplay that needs to be blamed for this grand travesty.
The cinematography and the editing are both quite good. The scenes of the Rath Yatra are shot beautifully, as are the montage scenes of the city. A particularly difficult shot — one involving an accident — is remarkably well executed. The music of the film is also quite good. But finally, it is the boredom-inducing pace of the film that spells its doom. Had the script been tighter, Gautam Halder’s Nirban could have found some semblance of cinematic salvation. What it ends up being, instead, is one big bore.
The film’s first half is funny and throws up some interesting turns, the effort to hide which is proving to be a strain while writing this review. The humour is not of the laugh-a-minute variety, and owes more to these situational twists than to wisecracks.
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