There is a lot of unintentional humour in Nishabdham, directed by Hemanth Madhukar. Halfway through the film, a police officer is brutally murdered and his body is pushed down from the second floor of a building to land on a parked vehicle. A crowd gathers, triggering a commotion. A top police official that everyone calls Captain walks into the crowd, stands in front of the bleeding body, and asks, “Can someone tell me what’s happening here?” like an angry teacher to a classroom of unruly children.
Seeing and understanding is a lost concept in this film, ironically a crime thriller.
It isn’t just the Captain, but everyone in this obvious catastrophe is going through an identity crisis. For instance, there is little that differentiates Maha (Anjali), a detective at the Seattle police department, from a quintessential south Indian movie pixie. We know she is a genius because she tells us. Not once but thrice. There is absolutely no evidence of acumen in her character. She cannot stand the sight of blood. We aren’t talking about gore, but the slightest sight of blood. She needs a psychiatrist’s help to understand the basic meaning of the word “possessive”. She is dramatic ﹣from within the earshot of a murderous villain, she phones her husband to tell him “There is no time! I love you!” And she is terrible at hiding.
The story revolves around Sakshi (Anushka Shetty), a deaf and mute painter, whose fiance, Antony (R Madhavan), a celebrated cello player, is found murdered in the cellar of a haunted building turned into an Airbnb. Sakshi is also the manager of an orphanage ﹣which looks like a public university building ﹣founded by her father. Mysteriously, she is a cello player too. There is a brief flashback sequence that details her courtship with Antony using the blandest of narrative devices. The couple never comes across as even remotely in love. Hence, the viewer is freed from having to be emotionally involved in Antony’s murder and the subsequent investigation.
It is not just that the writing is abysmal – the staging of scenes, production design and acting are devoid of logic and marked by indifference towards the audience. The film opens to a scene that explains the history of the haunted house. A couple enjoying a romantic evening is murdered by the “ghost” of a previous tenant whose painted portrait is in the house’s cellar. Many years later, when Sakshi and Antony check into the house which has been turned into a plush Airbnb by a Latin American businessman, you see that the cellar is untouched, exactly how it was on the night of the couple’s murder. In another instance, you see Maha barging into the premises of a house and shooting at an unarmed visitor.
One might wonder what draws Indian filmmakers to set movies in European/American landscapes, without trying to use the cultural or social specifications of the territory. There is no real reason for the film’s Seattle setting. The story is so ordinary that it could have been set literally anywhere: In Hyderabad or the outskirts of any city. Setting in in India would would have saved the film from using the least talented cast of supporting actors in the history of Telugu cinema. What shines through the performance of actor Michael Madsen, who has a glowing filmography in Hollywood, is his contempt towards the character and the film; an unwillingness to behave like a normal human being, let alone a senior police officer, in front of the camera.
The leading man, Madhavan, as a man with a psychological aberration, hams it up. His performance in the final sequence is as contrived as his spoofing of a Cello player. The best that could be said about the film is Anushka Shetty’s assured, if not excellent, performance. It might be the description of the protagonist that prompted Shetty to take up this film. However, the film barely uses the possibilities of Sakshi’s “silence”, except for a song where the lyrics talk about it. It doesn’t develop the unusual romance between this mute artist and a musician into a memorable affair.
Nishabdham doesn’t have much to do with the crime genre. All that comes across through the film’s 125-minutes running time ﹣which passes painfully slowly ﹣is a lesson, that it is not wise to underestimate the intelligence of the audience. Also, it takes a lot more than a stellar cast, and cliches picked up from American independent films to make a decent thriller.
The Nishabdham review is a Silverscreen India original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.