First up, how great it is to see a Bollywood, a Hindi film, set in the southern part of the country? It doesn’t happen very often and even when it does, it is like the setting never really matters. It could have been anywhere. But Anu Menon’s Waiting belongs to a different breed. You catch wafts of Malayalam at every instant. There are characters with traits tied to their roots but at the same time stop short of being stereotypes – Rajiv Ravindranathan’s Girish for example. We learn how Shiv Natraj’s (Naseeruddin Shah) wife Pankaja (Suhasini) managed to learn Hindi – questionable pronunciations and all – but Shiv never made an effort to learn Malayalam (he also adds how years of living in the south have made him Shiva Nataraja. What did make me wonder was the tautological name). Waiting is not just a talky we go in expecting. It is also crafted with thought where the atmosphere and surroundings matter. More on that later.
Shiv is a long time resident of Cochin and Tara (Kalki Koechlin) arrives at the same hospital where Shiv’s wife has been in coma for eight months. Tara’s husband Rajat has met with an accident and is also critical. Waiting deals with their grief as they both come to terms with understanding and tackling it. Contrary to what one might expect, it is not about the veteran schooling the novice as she finds herself in an unfamiliar situation. It is also not about an old man cynical about the young people of today’s digital world. They form a part of the story but it is not only about them. At the outset, we think Shiv has matured, he is past the depression stage and has reached a status of zen. But he too discovers a new stage to be crossed.
We get nuggets of information nonchalantly thrown at us. We don’t get Shiv’s background but Dr. Nirupam (Rajat Kapoor) keeps referring to him as Professor, even as Shiv keeps educating the doctor about his options and things he discovers in medical journals. When Shiv starts giving some well-meaning advice to Tara, she retorts how it sounds like an alcoholics anonymous meeting. And he agrees how it is not very different. Atika Chohan’s dialogues are a big plus, packing hard truths within conversations that sound like daily life. Credit to Chohan and Menon for giving a film where nothing happens (well, it is in the title of the film), yet doesn’t feel like it is giving you a lesson in handling difficult times.
About the atmosphere, the hospital Shiv and Tara are in is state of the art and hence expensive. But it seems alarmingly quiet and lifeless. We see only a handful of patients, their relatives and a deserted ICU. A far cry from the chaotic, buzzing hospitals we usually see on screen or television. It compliments Tara and Shiv’s situation – they both feel alone – he has no family members and is childless. Tara is not in good terms with Rajat’s and her parents and feels her friends are not there for her during the hard times. Menon is not only good with the writing and character arcs but also in maintaining a consistent mood. And it helps that she has the best performers in Shah and Koechlin. Koechlin especially is marvelous as she traverses the highs and lows of her character. She nails both Tara’s repartee filled exchanges with Shiv and also the abyss she finds herself in. Waiting may be funereal in the larger scheme of things but it is a joy to see two great actors in fine form playing characters that learn from each other.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)