I have often wondered how much do we know about the lives of the people doing odd jobs all around us. Be it a driver, a maid servant, a watchman etc, do we know anything apart from their names in the first place? They are the ones who ensure that our lives go on unaffected in the best possible ways. But do we care to know what their desires are? Or what they would like to do for the people in their family? Sometimes people tend to care a lot for their pets but end up ill-treating the people working for/with them, how is this justified in the first place? No one voluntarily takes up a job which comes with low self esteem, it’s a function of fate and one’s helplessness that sees one take up an assignment like this. So it’s amazing to see people from socially and economically downtrodden backgrounds managing to remain hopeful of a better future and work their way towards the same.
No I’m not trying to be preachy or make any of you feel guilty or angry, in fact I feel that I myself can do a lot better in terms of lending support of any sort to people who deserve it the most. But having seen Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari‘s Nil Battey Sannata (NBS from here on) I can’t but help thinking of all this now. A small film but with a lot of heart, NBS has a realistic tale that’s treated with some polish that might raise some questions in your mind, the kind of questions would totally depend on how you view the film though. It’s also encouraging to see that a film like this has been backed by some really influential people in the trade including Aanand L.Rai and Eros International. I was all the more curious about the film after knowing that Dhanush was impressed enough to back the Tamil remake of the same called Amma Kanakku which has been also directed by Ashwiny. Though Amma Kanakku did not manage to release the same day as NBS, despite being originally planned this way, in a way there would still be some curiosity level remaining when it does release a few weeks from now.
NBS is based in Agra and it is a tale that revolves around Chanda Sahay (Swara Bhaskar) and her teenage daughter Apeksha aka Apu (Ria Shukla). Chanda does various odd jobs, including working as a “bai” in Dr.Deewan’s (Ratna Pathak Shah) household and her only aspiration is to see Apu doing well in life and not ending up becoming a bai like herself. Apu being in class X and not taking her studies seriously makes Chanda worried about her future. Apu believes that being the daughter of a maid servant/bai she would in all probability also end up as one as she feels that her mother may not be able to afford educating her further. That being the case Apu is convinced that there was no point in studying seriously. When everything else fails to work, Dr.Deewan convinces Chanda to enrol in the same school and class as that of Apu, in an attempt to do some learning on her own and help Apu later on with her studies. Does she manage to do the same? How does Apu react and does Chanda manage to win her confidence? The rest of the film sets about answering all these questions and more.
Minor Spoilers Ahead
I know by now that the film is generating some debate in terms of whether Ashwiny’s approach to the subject is indeed right or not. There are some who have interpreted the film in a manner that says that a bai is ashamed of her own profession which is simply not done and that it doesn’t respect or pay heed to dignity of labour. There is also the feeling that Chanda is seen to be totally foisting her plans and aspirations on Apu without really bothering about what Apu wants. I would disagree to this observation to a large extent and the reason for this is the way the film itself addresses these concerns. There is a moment in the film where Apu is seen angrily asking her mom as to why is she hell bent on seeing her unfulfilled dreams happening through Apu and the reply from the mother is heartfelt and definitely indicative of what’s on her mind. Also I see nothing wrong in Chanda wanting to see her daughter lead a better life,it’s the most natural thing to expect from a mother bringing up her daughter all by herself. And Apu isn’t actually wanting to be a bai, instead she feels that given their circumstances that would be the most logical thing to happen to her.
So on this aspect I am very much with Ashwiny and she does make a good case for what Chanda desires as far as Apu’s future is concerned. But I must admit that the realistic tone isn’t all that well defined here, Chanda’s life doesn’t come across as all that tough despite us seeing her juggle multiple jobs. Working with the Deewan’s seems to be nearly like managing one’s own household and there are hardly any serious obstacles that we see her face as such. Even their dwelling complete with a refrigerator and T.V with satellite connection gives them a slightly comfortable appearance in terms of their living conditions. But these are minor quibbles that can be ignored to an extent, but I wish Ashwiny had ended the film with the scene towards the end where the mother and daughter have a wonderful conversation with the Taj Mahal in the background. That was a scene where the film probably was at an emotional high and ending it there would have given the the film a better finish. Instead we get a populist sort of ending which looks force fit and perhaps convenient if I can say so.
End of Spoilers
The film benefits from some endearing performances as well some well written moments and dialogues.There is some wonderful camaraderie between the kids, thankfully none of them (Apu,Sweety,Pintu and Amar) appear Worldly wise and have a sense of vulnerability which makes them tick. It is also good to see the way the women are brought into the forefront in the film, be it the way Mr.Deewan is relegated to the background at their home or how there’s nothing beyond a fleeing reference to Chanda’s husband. Even Apu comes across as a fairly strong character with a lot of scope. And despite the serious nature of the subject its good to see that the writers (Neeraj Singh, Nitesh Tiwari, Pranjal Choudhary and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari) have infused some light moments which will certainly make us chuckle along the way. Take for example the scene where Dr.Deewan brings along Chanda to meet Apu’s school principal (Pankaj Tripathi) to secure admission for Chanda, the way the principal reacts to the situation is funny but in a restrained manner.
The songs composed by Rohan and Vinayak work well with the narrative and “Maths Mein Dabba Gul” (lyrics by Nitesh Tiwari and vocals by Aarti Shena & Rohan Utpat) in particular is a song that one can connect to easily. Gavemic U Ary‘s cinematography is an asset to the film,capturing the various hues and shades with all earnestness. At a run time of around 100 minutes the film is deftly edited by Chandrashekhar Prajapati and if not for the finale, its a wonderful job indeed. Ratna Pathak Shah as Dr. Deewan is in her element and she shares excellent camaraderie with Chanda in the film. Sanjay Suri in a cameo as the District Collector is alright. Pankaj Tripathi clears is a showstealer and NBS is a great example of that as he portrays the maths teacher plus school principal in a deliberately funny manner, yet taking care not to come across as a caricature. Ria Shukla is a great find and she literally pulls of the various emotional swings of Apu with ease, be it her interactions with her school friends or with Chanda, she portrays them convincingly. Swara Bhaskar may look too elegant for a bai but there’s a certain sweetness and feel good factor about her which makes you ignore everything else.
NBS isn’t a perfect film, it has its own share of issues but then its positives far outweigh the negatives. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari does well to pay focus on a very relevant issue with a lot of warmth and earnestness. Irrespective of whether you were fond of Maths or despised it back in school, NBS is a film for all ages as it makes you nostalgic without over doing it. It is also poised to set off a debate in the right fashion, go watch the tale of Chanda and Apu unfold on the screen. Who knows maybe its time to do away with the boundaries and allow everyone to have a desire, a desire of a better future for themselves and their family.