In Anu Menon’s Waiting, a beautiful relationship blooms in the glum corridors of a hospital. The heart-warming narrative is backed by enchanting performances from Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin.
He, Shiv Natraj (Naseeruddin Shah), is a professor. She, Tara Kapoor/Deshpande (Kalki Koechlin), is a young, newly-wed urbanite from Mumbai. Shiv’s beloved wife has been lying in coma for eight months, and doctors think her prognosis is bleak. Tara’s husband, an IT professional, has just been admitted to the hospital. He suffered a near-fatal brain injury in a road accident.
There is a sense of foreboding in the air. But the duo overcome it through their friendship, as they share stories, jokes, anger, and grief.
The film doesn’t have a complicated storyline. Nothing mysterious unfolds. Yet, in its ordinariness, Waiting is superlatively charming. Waiting is reminiscent of Sophia Coppola’s poetic Lost in Translation: Two strangers strike up a friendship in a foreign land, where everybody else speaks a language they don’t know. A tag-less relationship that lifts them from their state of despair and hopelessness.
Anu Menon’s film is focused on its protagonists’ psyche, and their contrasting beliefs and existence. On the one hand, there’s Tara’s impulsiveness and impatience. On the other is Shiv’s tireless vigil, and his impregnable faith that his wife will regain consciousness. Alongside, we watch the moral dilemma of doctors who have to walk a tightrope, balancing their emotions and professional duties.
Tara, essentially a millennial, uses an expletive to mark every emotion. When she finds a casual message on her husband’s phone, she immediately concludes that he had been unfaithful. She loves her husband, but fears that he might end up in a vegetative state after the surgery, entirely dependent on people around him, forever broken inside.
Shiv has come to terms with the tragedy that came out of the blue. He is careful about what he says. He has kept a secret from his wife for over 30 years, fearing that it might hurt her. He reads to her while she is in coma. Like Benigno in Pedro Almadovar’s brilliant and poignant Talk To Her, Shiv imagines conversations with her. He needs her even in this comatose existence, because he is hopelessly in love with her. In Tara’s words, he’s ‘zen-like’.
The film hovers around the unlikely friendship between Tara and Shiv. “My name is Shiv Nataraj. But after I came to South India, it became ‘Shiva Nataraja’,” he says animatedly, and Tara laughs. Through that region-specific joke, she finds a much-needed ally in this strange city. When she laments the pointlessness of having 5,000 followers on Twitter, he asks, “What is Twitter?” He is curious about her lack of inhibitions, a generic feature of her generation. She is inspired by his tireless romance, and most of all, his readiness to wait for however long it takes.
Anu Menon is a lover of urban spaces. Her debut directorial London Paris New York was a Before Sunrise-inspired romantic drama set in classic Western cities. Similarly, the archaic city of Cochin has a definitive presence in Waiting: The backwaters, streets, and the well-decorated heritage house Shiv stays in; the broken Malayalam that Shiv speaks, to tease his Malayalee wife; the thickly accented, English of Rajat’s conservative yet good-hearted Malayalee co-worker Gireesh. In its portrayal of South India, Waiting is the exact opposite of Chennai Express.
Despite being a winner on every other front, Waiting falls short in its portrayal of its supporting characters. We’ll never know what lies behind the senior doctor (Rajat Kapoor)’s seemingly calm exterior. We hear no details of Rajat’s mother, a recurring character in Tara’s conversations.
Kalki is adept at expressing subtle emotions, yet scenes between her and Shiv, where they argue about Rajat’s surgery, come across as superficial. The film hurries through those portions, leaving the audience longing for more insight into Tara’s mind.
Naseeruddin Shah as Shiv Natraj is a delight to watch. After all, his acting calibre is such that he can make a simple act like sitting idly look magnificently expressive.
Waiting is yet another testimony to the changing face of Bollywood. Characters sprinkled with human imperfections. Relationships that cross generations, gender, and every other disparity. Waiting is ultimately an incomplete love story that captures the uncertainty of life.
The Waiting review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.