Waiting: World on the Edge of a Blade
Two marriages. Two patients. Two spaces. Four lives in the balance
Sonali Ghosh Sen Delhi
That is the premise of the film, Waiting. A film with an unusual theme of life, love and death, all biding their time quietly in a plush hospital in Kochi.
The only thing that links the protagonists, Tara (Kalki Koechlin), and Shiv (Naseerudin Shah), is grief. Shiv has had more time to get used to it, as the methodical professor’s wife has been in a coma for the past eight months, while Tara, the impassioned, impulsive, ‘get everything done now’ type of girl has been just introduced to the maelstrom of grief with the news that her husband is in a coma in Kochi. Shiv is the stranger she would never have met, wouldn’t have even dreamed of meeting, if life hadn’t placed her here on a pause button, in this nether world of hospital corridors, under circumstances that she cannot even begin to comprehend.
Tracing their two lives, director Anu Menon goes through the whole cycle of the ‘pit in the stomach’ terror, anger, confusion and sadness that one goes through when one’s loved one is in hospital. It’s a place where she also plays out the contrast of the old and new, of hope and hopelessness, of emotions and isolation.
Shiv has been married for 40 years and his marriage is very different from Tara’s six-week-old one, as is his retired life. Theirs is a tenuous bond, which sometimes exposes their differences – he is a man who definitely found love before Tinder, while she is a product of the communications age. She is unaware of small town rhythms, as he is of the city’s frenetic pace. But here, in sterile hospital rooms, they are on equal footing with Shiv being more experienced in grief, leading Tara through the maze of documents and doctors and coping mechanisms. And he becomes the one thing she so desperately needs with her 4,712 Twitter followers – a mirror to what she is experiencing.
The mirror analogy is sometimes literally caught on windows and shadows and, umm, mirrors as the director gently spools out the tale. Grief is sometimes spelt out, even laboriously so, over scenes where silence would have done the job better.
Not that Waiting is not good storytelling. It is. It is poignant, and gentle and truthful. It is about a chapter of life that is rarely discussed, let alone shown on film. And it has its moments – when just wearing your husband’s shirt gives you the strength to go on, when a friend’s face reflects the shock you went through, when an alarm clock like Groundhog’s Day keeps you in a limbo of repetitiveness.
However, sometimes, it treats life like a life lesson to be learnt, as if everything needs to be said, to be explained. There is, for instance, the sustained scene in which Naseer talks about a past event without any visual support. A long verbal account of the past has its virtues. But, unfortunately, in Waiting, Naseer’s big reveal reminds you more of a movie of his in the ’80s than it does of the gut-wrenching secret intended. This dependency on verbal storytelling also greatly hampers Rajat Kapoor’s performance and he remains in the audience’s mind as a ‘talking head’, literally.
He is the dispassionate voice of medicine – someone who tries to find the balance between empathy and professionalism, which seems to fail for both the protagonists, as well as the audience.
Kalki’s performance is uneven. Sometimes the chemistry between her and Naseer is crackling, sometimes her vulnerability under that ‘in control’ act she is putting on is heartbreaking, and sometimes her performance seems as if she is still trying to get under the skin of the character.
Naseer, on the other hand, understands Shiv and his frailties beautifully and his is a finely nuanced performance – of a man on the edge – where finely tuned tension (which Tara misinterprets as Zen) can slip anytime into desperation.
Waiting is a movie that has its heart in the right place. It is a film that explores a difficult subject, without becoming melodramatic or morbid, yet it is also interspersed with some ‘let’s do it by the rulebook’ screenplay moments. So, in the end it wants to ring true, and it does ring true at times, but somehow still leaves you wanting more.