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Nishabd the movie – why the theme of the film makes me uncomfortable

March 4, 2007

This film is about an 18 year old girl falling in love with a sixty year old man. One of the many avatar’s of films based on ‘Lolita’, a movie about a pedophile and murderer. Amitabh Bachchan, one of our legendary stars acts as the dirty old man…oops! Not dirty old man. He is Amitabh after all, so how could he be portrayed as a dirty old man? And so Ram Gopal Varma, one of Bollywood’s foremost directors, decides to show the sixty year old who falls in love with a young 18 year old as someone decent and respectable. Not mixed up. Not disturbed. But a normal grandpa figure who feels no sexual desire for the nymphet who is in love with him!

I admit I have not seen the movie so this cannot be a review. I have just given the reasons as to why I will never see this film.

But why am I so nauseated with the idea of a child falling in love with a man who is old enough to be her grandfather? I always considered myself a liberal thinker. Could it be something to do with the fact that I am a mother of two young daughters and for me it would be a nightmare if any of them got hitched to an old man? But which mother would think that this would be a good union for her daughter?

It could also be that I am acutely aware that this is India where millions of young girls are exploited sexually by older men. In fact not just this, there are many cases where girls as young as 12 and 13 have been married off to men older than 30 and in some publicised cases, 50! That is why the theme of the film revolts me.

But I thought I was different and that everyone’s taste differs and there would be enough people wanting to see this movie. That is what I thought.

I was wrong. The opening of the film has been disastrous. Many cinema halls are going empty. I can’t say I am not glad. In this same article, trade experts have been quoted as saying that Indians are orthodox and and some other reviewers have said something similar. That Indian viewers are not ready for this sort of thing…but frankly I do not think of myself as orthodox. In our family we all wear western clothes as well as Indian clothes and I do not think there is anything wrong in showing flesh. I dated my husband for many years before marrying him and it was accepted in my family. Women in our family are all highly educated and quite a few of them are professional working women. Drinking is not considered taboo in our home and nor is non vegetarian food…and nor do we maintain many of the traditional ‘Hindu’ rituals and practices. Intercaste marraiges are also not taboo in our family..but certainly a young girl marrying an old man is something quite repugnant. And I refuse to believe that in western society a mother would be happy with this situation. It is a not a question of west vs east as some people are suggesting.

However, a film director is an artist and he has a right to air his own views about life, however repugnant they are to others. But apparently, the film is not good even artistically. Here is an excerpt from a Mumbai Mirror article:

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita probably rocked the boat because it offered literary gravitas to pedophilia. Not that Nabakov denied the sheer brutality of his protagonist: a middle-aged professor, later a murderer, who marries to seduce a 14-year-old step-daughter; a relationship that social contract will rightly never allow. Moralists felt he provided an incitement, at any rate, an outlet or overt expression to perversion…the young, 18-year-old Jia is the lollipop Lolita of a sexually precocious nymphet’s brown skin…her restless, unstable life, shorn of parental care, very partly explains an unnatural lust for a stable, older man. Bachchan, as it turns out, isn’t quite Humbert Humbert. Therein lies a problem…Humbert had a messy childhood history…Bachchan is just another 60-year-old, neither overtly naïve or immature, nor impulsive or uncaring; leading what seems a regular, retired married life…the camera-work, high on unnecessary effect, and sounds of wind chimes and gongs strictly portend an event or action; more in line with the horror genre. Nothing happens really. The conversations between protagonists aren’t revelatory. Even the intended lyricism, if you look out for one, seems rather manufactured. We’re just meant to learn that Vijay accedes to quick advances from a girl he would rather reserve grand-parental affections for. And that this is an inestimable, rich emotional bond; not a fatal attraction or a momentary lapse of reason. In confusion between love and lust, the odd guffaws in the theatre will tell you, we’re then left with a film that’s about neither.

Well, that review decided it for me. The movie is clearly a hypocritical rendering of a pedophile’s lust for a young girl. It doesn’t makes sense otherwise – a sixty year old bonding emotionally with a girl who in his eyes could only be a ‘brat’. Unless ofcourse the physical aspect is strong…but apparently this has not been shown! As for the girl falling for him, that is more understandable…young girls are often infatuated with older men.

I wonder why Amitabh Bachchan accepted this role. This is one role of his that is not going to be liked by the public. His role as ‘sexy sam’ in KANK was also criticised (he played a man who started having affairs with women after his wife’s death because it was always his suppressed desire which he kept in check because of the ‘love’ he had for his wife) but somehow people accepted it. But this time Mr. Bachchan is not going to be so lucky.

Later this evening: I saw on television today that people in Bachchan’s home state of Uttar Pradesh are protesting. Buring his effigies! And there was a television programme on Zee news discussing this issue. There were four people who were discussing it…a couple (old man professor married to a young woman student), another old guy and a young westernised looking girl. They were all off the point in my opinion. The professor and his young wife kept repeating the same thing: that love crosses all boundaries, including that of age. The other old guy kept talking about how Indian culture has been corrupted by western culture and the westernised girl kept saying that the young make impulsive decisions and also that there is nothing wrong with western culture and that love crosses all boundaries. And the achor couldn’t control them because they were all talking at once, yelling at each other in fact. It was rather amusing. Not one of them mentioned the artistic merit of the movie or even whether the characters made any sense. Whether it was possible for a sixty year man to fall in love with an 18 year old without lusting after her body. This is the real reason why this movie is nothing but bullshit. Not becoming of a talented director like Ram Gopal Varma and a wastage of the talent of Amitabh Bachchan. Hypocrites all.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2007 6:51 pm

    The theme is based on the suppressed, ageold, desires/fantasies of every male.

    Joggers Park has somewhat a similar theme but in that movie the female character admits that she lured the judge to take some advantage, and the movie is not explicit like this one.

    Alas, what we can do when Ramu and Amitabh get togather to lure the innocent public.

  2. Padmini permalink
    March 5, 2007 5:30 am

    This is not a comment about the movie (which I haven’t seen) but on the reaction to the theme which is older male falling in love with a much younger woman.From your description of the protagonist,he seems to be an ordinary person (just like you and me).It is therefore quite possible, that you and I could find ourselves in the same situation as Mr.Bachan given similar circumstances.It is our conditioning which prevents us from even considering this as a possibilty,or seeing this as “wrong”.Stripped of this, this can happen to anyone.

  3. enigmatic permalink
    March 6, 2007 5:29 am

    Nishabd is bad cinema in every way! not for its content, but for the sheer messy way in which it has been made and presented! I sincerely agree that Indian cinema should progress beyond its mishmash of candyfloss love stories, boring gangster dramas, star-driven junk stuff etc – but are movies like NISHABD actually providing quality variety fare? is it logical by any standards to assume that a 64 yrs old man would ‘fall in love’ with a 19-year old ? and that too when the 19-year old is shown as someone strutting around with her long legs and skimpily clad ? two things can possibly happen -either the 64-yr old man would ask the 19year old to behave herself, or, he would be strongly driven by his testosterone! and how can this be showcased as poetic love! the trauma that Vijay undergoes is sheer lust, period, a desire trigerred by seeing something young, tender, juicy and supple, and not something platonic at all – but RGV wants us to believe that it is platonic, which is like serving a very well-cooked polythene bag of basmati rice, instead of the rice itself! this simply is not the direction Indian cinema should be taking – being unconventional is fine, but being illogical is taking the intelligence of an average filmgoer for a ride! all those 60plus oldies travelling in buses in metro cities dont ‘fall in love’ when they oogle at young dames – nor is there anything even remotely platonic about oldies desiring to be in the company of younger women – lack of courage to show things as they are is where our filmmakers fail – and to top it all, the dumb tagline, “some love stories are not meant to be understood” – how about this “some stories are not meant to be made into movies, if they dont have logic in them” – that would be more appropriate – not just RGV, it is AB too, who has taken all of us for a clean dumb-s*ckers ride – in one interview he says
    “senility is not the end of desire”, thus making “desire” the central issue of this movie, while all of our critics go gaga over this not being about ‘desire’ but about ’emotions/love’ – give us all a frigging break! at this rate, we will never ever get out of the rut of filmmakers making bad cinema in the name of intelligent cinema, while movies like NISHABD insult our intelligence

  4. March 6, 2007 5:41 am

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is difficult to believe that a sixty year old could relate emotionally to someone 40 years younger in a platonic, yet romantic way, without feeling the heat of sexual love. Why, even when people are the same age they feel attracted physically! Its ridiculous to think that old men are immune from the physical attraction.

  5. Vipin permalink
    March 7, 2007 11:06 am

    A mindblowing movie after a long period of time. Excellent work by Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. An excellent effort by Ramgopal Varma and mindblowing work by Amitabh. And those who have’t seen the movie, I wish them to see as soon as possible.The story is perfect,and cant go better than this.

  6. March 10, 2007 3:52 pm

    “Amitabh Bachchan, one of our legendary stars acts as the dirty old man…oops! Not dirty old man. He is Amitabh after all, so how could he be portrayed as a dirty old man?”

    This may be a slightly off topic, so please bear. This statement of yours speaks about the larger than life image of an actor and the kind of impact bollywood has on lives in this country. Can’t a film just be seen from the art/entertainment point of view? An actor just can’t be a role model. And this image is why all this fuss is all about. Same movie if made with any other actor would have passed without any protest. Even Amitabh in an interview said that he does not believe in image, he is just an actor.

  7. March 10, 2007 5:58 pm

    Gurpreet I don’t think this is off topic at all. In fact I feel that if it wasn’t for Amitabh Bachchan then perhaps Ram Gopal Varma would have made a better film. He has after all proved himself to be a very good director earlier.
    I cannot help feeling that Amitabh himself might have objected to any romantic scenes in the film but ofcourse this is just my own theory. If Amitabh has said in an interview that he does not believe in image, somehow I don’t believe him. We all know how much he has lied (I heard him in a BBC Hard Talk interview) about his long standing affair with another woman who was not his wife.
    But ofcourse Ram Gopal varma wanted Amitabh in the movie probably because he knew of its sensitive nature. He perhaps thought the audiences would accept it if an actor of stature did the role, but I think the opposite has happened.

  8. Phantom permalink
    March 29, 2007 2:39 pm

    I haven’t seen this movie as it sounds a tad boring and slow for my taste. However, I don;t feel there’s anything wrong as such in an old man developing feelings for a much younger woman. This can happen across many levels, physical, emotional as well as spiritual.

    An old man is still nevertheless a man, and still subject to the same hormonal feelings that affect males from puberty till, well, till they stop experiencing such feelings. Just as some boys start experieincing physical feeling earlier than others…similarly it is entirely feasible that an old man still has an active sexual appetite. This is not to be viewed as being perverted or dirty…it is a natural hormonal, biological, chemical and physiological function that every member of the ale species experiences.

    It is also entirely feasibly and acceptable that an old man develops an emotional connection with a much ounger female. Yes, an 18 year old girl will definitely have a much different mindset and outlook to life compatred to the 60 yr old geezer….but….idealistic talks of love crossing all boundaries aside….isn’t it possible that two individuals feel a connection between them….a connection characterised by mutual respect, liking, fondness, curiosity and care. It is possible that the 18 yr old girl has a very matured and worldly outlook on life…and finds that the old man is truly the one who understands her….perhaps cos he’s seen life through a much longer and weathered lens…such feelings of emotional atachment can easily lead to fondness, which when coupled with a sense of being flattered that the older man finds her attractive and interesting, can also lead to love.

    Lolita was sick….and because it didn’t focus on the development of the relationship…it focussed more on the act of implmenting and engaging that relationship. Anyway, all my opinion.

  9. vinod permalink
    July 25, 2008 9:53 am

    I wonder whether it would have made any difference to your views or that of the commentators if the 19 year old was shown as a mature well balanced girl, rather than the way Nishabd potrayed her.

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