Nude movie review: A lyrical account of a nude model’s life among sanctimonious conservatives

Anna MM Vetticad

Apr 29, 2018 15:09:54 IST

3.5/5

Nude did not make as much news as S Durga nee Sexy Durga did when the I&B Ministry barred both from the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) last year. That is because S Durga’s director Sanal Kumar Sashidharan made his displeasure public, challenged the decision in court and waged a high-profile battle with the establishment. Marathi director Ravi Jadhav and his producers chose a quieter, perhaps safer, path than their fiery counterpart from the Malayalam film industry.

Fortunately for cinephiles, their differing approaches to countering censorship have got the same result in each case: a month after S. Durga’s theatrical release, Nude too is here.

Nude (Chitraa) is the story of a poor woman who comes to Mumbai with her son to escape an abusive, adulterous husband in her hometown.

After struggling to find work in the big city, Yamuna lands a job as a nude model for art students at the prestigious Sir J J School of Art. The film is based on a true story but the identities of the actual individuals involved have been kept secret, as a written statement from Jadhav on screen testifies at the start, “in keeping with our commitment to the school’s protocol and related sensitivities”.

Nude movie review: A lyrical account of a nude model’s life among sanctimonious conservatives

Poster for Nude

On the face of it, Nude is about Yamuna’s struggles against poverty, patriarchy and conservatism. At a macro level though, it examines the failure of social and political fundamentalists to understand art, and their conscienceless denunciation of the very works they consume with a lustful gaze.

Like sanctimonious men who masturbate to lovemaking scenes on screen, but condemn the actors they are watching as whores, Nude’s villains are all around us in real life. This film is a hard-hitting exposé of the fake piety of such conservatives.

Despite the wistful tone, there is a lot about Nude that is positive and life-affirming, with even a flash of humour emerging unexpectedly while Yamuna settles into her new profession. Jadhav has shown extreme sensitivity in the way he portrays his heroine’s initial shame at the job and how she overcomes that feeling. The bond she shares with Chandrakka, the woman who introduces her to nude modelling, is heartwarming.

Although Yamuna’s decision at the end of Nude does not flow convincingly from her journey until then, so much else in the film is credible and inspiring. The high point of Nude for me is a scene in Yamuna and Chandrakka’s hovel right after Yamuna gets her first payment, when we see a transformation in her body language, a melting away of the fearful youngster who had entered the massive metropolis not long back, and a shift in the very air around her. Yamuna at that moment embodies the confidence that comes from financial independence — it is a marvellous thing to behold.

Considering the sophistication of the rest of the film, a crucial scene involving placard-bearing protestors is written and directed with surprising awkwardness. I also could not help but wonder if Jadhav was not taking too uncritical a view of the artist community by not even mentioning the possibility of sexual violence against women like Yamuna.

The care with which she chooses people to pose for came across more as a general observation about the safety of women in society and not a specific reference to those in Yamuna’s situation. It would have helped to throw light on a question as obvious as this.

DoP Amalendu Chaudhary shoots the painting scenes in Nude so delicately that voyeurs looking for flesh-and-blood bottoms and breasts to peruse will be deeply disappointed. If in an early scene running alongside the opening credits, the camera does appear to objectify Yamuna — the only time it does so in Nude — it is to make a point, as you will realise if you heed the lyrics of the soulful song 'Dis yeti' playing alongside in Cyli Khare’s ruggedly attractive voice. “Tell me, oh dear,” she sings as the lens travels over Yamuna’s drenched body encased in a wet sari, “where all will your gaze trail?”

Although the cinematography in Nude is rarely lavish (a choice well suited to the kind of film this is), a mention must be made of a visually noteworthy scene featuring Yamuna on a beach. In closer shots, as the ocean rages before her and a gusty wind blows, those mighty waters look intimidatingly real. The camera keeps pulling out though to long shots in which she and her companion appear like figures in a watercolour painting.

The story of Nude (written by Jadhav) derives its strength and substance from Yamuna and Chandrakka. Chhaya Kadam is a powerful actor and paints Chandrakka as a feisty creature of immense mental muscle. Kalyanee Mulay faithfully captures Yamuna’s passage from misery to upliftment and pain again, not wilting once as the camera stays on her expressive face and body almost from the first shot. Naseeruddin Shah makes a small but memorable appearance as the renowned barefoot painter with a Picasso-esque style, Mallik Sahab, no doubt an ode to the late MF Husain.

This of course brings us to why the I&B Ministry objected to Nude being screened at IFFI 2017. The reasons reported included that the film was not yet cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and that the title was deemed objectionable. The reason assumed by many liberals was that the title hinting at the possibility of naked people in a film was deemed offensive to India’s culture police. Once you watch Nude you will know that it does not feature a single shot in which we actually see an actor’s unclothed body in its entirety. What we do see though is a Muslim painter hounded by violent political goons so reminiscent of religious extremists who harassed Husain for his goddess paintings. Draw your own conclusions now for whether and why the present ruling party would have a bone to pick with Nude.

As we now know, better sense has prevailed and the film was cleared with no cuts and an A (adults only) rating from the CBFC. While these are small mercies in the present dismal scenario we find ourselves in, the truth is it is ludicrous that such a thoughtful feminist film has been given the strictest available rating, while ugly commercial ventures glorifying violence against women get away with a mild UA (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below 12) and even U (unrestricted). This is a crying shame, because Nude is excellent material for children especially for the turn Yamuna’s relationship with her son takes.

Nude’s journey to theatres then mirrors the very societal double standards it explores. This is a lyrical film about human beings and the arts struggling to survive in a hypocritical world.

Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 16:46:00 IST