Nirvana Inn movie review: Adil Hussain-starrer works best when exploring its protagonist’s tortured psyche

Nirvana Inn, Vijay Jayapal’s second feature film, is awash with symbols, fearlessly complex, mysterious, atmospheric and impeccably performed by its lead actors. It lodges the tale of a man’s increasingly harrowing reckoning with his past into the wide but pointed template offered by the horror genre.

Anupam Kant Verma November 27, 2019 11:48:56 IST

3.5/5

Nirvana Inn, Vijay Jayapal’s second feature film, is awash with symbols, fearlessly complex, mysterious, atmospheric and impeccably performed by its lead actors. It lodges the tale of a man’s increasingly harrowing reckoning with his past into the wide but pointed template offered by the horror genre. With one wide shot after another mapping the wider landscape of a mountainous Himalayan locale, the director charts his protagonist’s irrevocable descent into the hellish past he’s trying to escape.

Following a bumpy, lacklustre beginning, the film gets better with time. It truly comes into its own during an impressive middle section that features deeply immersive stretches underscored by command of atmosphere and great acting. At the end, the film leaves us with more questions than answers. Some of those questions are better earned and offer a few genuinely surprising moments in the film. Others leave us superficially entertained or simply clueless.

Jogi Chakraborthy (Adil Hussain) takes up the managerial position at Nirvana Inn, a quaint mountain resort in Himachal Pradesh. He’s moved here from Manjuli in his native Assam, where he worked as a boatman and Bhaona performer. Almost immediately after arriving, he is beset by seemingly supernatural events that keep him up at night and haunt him by day. Then people from his past start arriving at the hotel and behave exceedingly awkwardly, while a mysterious masked figure stalks him in the woods, always escaping his grasp. As soon as he starts growing closer to Leela (Sandhya Mridul), a filmmaker staying at the resort, Mohini (Rajshri Deshpande), a seductive woman, begins to tease him. A series of uncanny events give way to unfortunate incidents until terror is let loose at the resort. Jogi is caught in the middle of all this, confused and battered by the incendiary present and the horrifying past, equally clueless about both.

Nirvana Inn movie review Adil Hussainstarrer works best when exploring its protagonists tortured psyche

A still from Nirvana Inn

The film progresses under the pall of an infectious strangeness. Hussain’s furrowed face and perpetually confounded aspect and Jayanth Mathavan’s parade of wide, eerie shots contribute to it in equal measure. Jayapal wears his influences on his sleeve; there’s even an in your face tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the less informed. But the homages edify the narrative integrity of the film with cross-textual meaning. Wordless stretches populate the film, allowing us to engage deeply with the individual images and be drawn evermore into Jogi’s fraught circumstances. So it’s all the more disappointing when their subliminal effect is punctured by abrupt editing and needlessly expository dialogue. Initially, the film struggles to attain a rhythm — the scenes appear rushed and the sudden dives into the past confuse and derail the story. The editing strategy of abruptly cutting away from a scene that’s becoming increasingly ominous with anticipation starts working successfully fairly late into the film. Once Mohini walks into the frame and begins twirling the narrative around her finger, the editing falls back into place and the film starts to enjoy its strongest, most effective stretches.

Jayapal is particularly adept at handling intimate encounters. The intimations of intimacy have the effect of confounding both Jogi and the viewer, thereby enriching the disturbing strangeness of the film. The confusion is age old: is it all real or just the byproduct of a tortured mind? The sex and death drives tempt our protagonist from a distance and appear to get closer by the minute. Conversations and incidents have a canted quality to them. Something’s always off, a trace of subtle manipulation or the residue of a will behind the curtain ever present. It makes for an engaging film. But the uneasiness is punctured when the film loses its sense of perspective, going off on a tangent from Jogi’s point of view. Most of the scenes that offer a clear break from reality don’t fit naturally into the structure of the film. They fail to cohere into a whole and the film seems momentarily displaced, not unlike Jogi himself, between the mountains in front of him and the river he left behind.

Hussain and Deshpande’s rendition of their characters is the hallmark of the film. The friction they create is abrasive yet alluring. As stated earlier, a lot of questions are purposely left unanswered, but as long as Mohini isn’t relegated to the margins of the film, their chemistry enlivens the film. Jayapal shoots these two intensely physical performances deftly. For a film that employs the wide shot generously, the cuts to tighter shots and the ensuing rhythm was always going to be the key. His use of space to accentuate and diminish their relationship’s dynamics is commendable.

Nirvana Inn sets out to put its viewers into Limbo, right beside Jogi, who’s hunched over his pot of sins, utterly distraught by guilt. It manages to do just that for a large portion of its runtime. It works best while exploring its protagonist’s tortured psyche and loses its effectiveness owing to a few undernourished sub-plots. Its centre is always more rewarding than the fringes. Modern Indian film is bafflingly short on memorable horror fare. In the current political and social climate where fear is ominously close to acquiring the status of a currency on its own, one would like to believe that we shouldn’t be too far from a horror story. Nirvana Inn is a firm if momentarily shaky step in the right direction.

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