Tag Archives: Nitesh Tiwari

Movie Review: Nil Battey Sannata (2016)

nilbatteysannata3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Nil Battey Sannata (“Good for Nothing” colloquially) is a heart-warming story about familial bonds and the importance of education. However, the movie is more than just feel-good fare, offering a canny exploration of the complexities of poverty.

Appu (Ria Shukla) is a typical teen, more fond of hanging out with her friends and mooning over film stars than studying. Also like many teens, she doesn’t understand the lengths her mother goes to just to keep a roof over their heads.

As a single mother and the family’s sole breadwinner, Chanda (Swara Bhaskar) wears a lot of hats. She works as a maid for Dr. Diwan (Ratna Pathak) in the morning and does odd jobs at night, washing dishes or sewing clothes. When she comes home, she cooks and cleans so that Appu can focus on her studies.

Even though Appu is in her final year of high school, mother and daughter haven’t discussed Appu’s future plans. Chanda assumed her own toil would enable Appu to go to college, an opportunity high school dropout Chanda never had. She is stunned when Appu says she wants to be a maid like her mom.

Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s story — co-written with her husband, Dangal director Nitesh Tiwari — doesn’t lay all of the blame on Appu, though the girl’s disdain for school is a huge hurdle. Her lack of ambition is partly a product of her surroundings. Everyone she knows is poor or a laborer, so what good will an education do her? Her friend, Pintu (Prashant Tiwari), plans to become a driver like his father. He’s befuddled when Chanda asks him if he wouldn’t rather own the car than drive for someone else.

Chanda’s perspective is also limited by her financial circumstances. She knows she can’t afford the tuition for medical school or engineering school, but she doesn’t know of any other jobs that could provide the comfortable lifestyle she envisions for Appu. By happenstance, Chanda meets a man being chauffeured in an air-conditioned car, and she learns that he’s the local tax collector. She immediately determines that’s the job that Appu must pursue.

Appu’s intellectual laziness has caused her to fall behind in math. With expensive tutoring out of the question, Chanda heeds Dr. Diwan’s advice and enrolls in Appu’s class so that she can tutor her daughter herself. Of course, nothing could be more mortifying to Appu than having her mom as a classmate, clad in a school uniform and all. Chanda’s efforts to help her daughter cause friction between the two of them, straining their formerly close bonds.

Bhaskar is charming and sympathetic as Chanda, though it’s hard not to pull for a mother who’ll go to any lengths for her daughter. Shukla’s job is harder given that Appu is often a pill, but the actress pulls it off, making her character relatable. Even at Appu’s worst moments, the audience can always tell that she’s a good kid at heart, thanks to Shukla’s performance.

The mother-daughter relationship is the core of Nil Battey Sannata, but Iyer Tiwari does an admirable job depicting a concept that’s hard to understand, namely the way poverty complicates all aspects of a person’s life. It’s easy to prescribe education as the ultimate solution to economic hardship, but Chanda’s and Appu’s story shows that money isn’t the only scarce resource for those on the margins. Time, experience, and connections are almost as important — and almost as rare, too.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Bhoothnath Returns (2014)

BhoothnathReturns2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Bhoothnath Returns is only intermittently entertaining, because writer-director Nitesh Tiwari fails to take his target audience into account. Why does a film geared toward children have a runtime of 155 minutes? And why are so many of those minutes devoted to discussions of how to file paperwork?

2008’s Bhoothnath (“Lord of Ghosts“) starred Amitabh Bachchan as the titular not-so-scary ghost. The sequel finds Bhoothnath the target of jokes up in Ghost World — which looks a lot like Hogwarts — due to his inability to scare children.

Bhoothnath returns to earth to redeem his reputation, only to run into another fearless kid who can see him, even though no one else can. Savvy street urchin Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao) teams up with Bhoothnath, solving the problems of other earth-bound ghosts and earning money. As their friendship grows, Bhoothnath realizes that Akhrot’s future will never be secure while murderous thugs like Bhau (Boman Irani) run the government. Thus is born India’s first campaign to elect a ghost to political office.

For a while, the discussions of the bureaucratic technicalities surrounded Bhoothnath’s run are entertaining, aided by Sanjay Mishra’s funny performance as Bhoothnath’s lawyer. As the second half of the film rolls on, the story gets bogged down in heavy-handed patriotic speeches and lengthy montages depicting differing versions of what will happen on election day.

There is a surfeit of montages in Bhoothnath Returns. Instead of briefly panning the camera across the festively decorated grounds before Bhoothnath’s big rally, Tiwari devotes in excess of a minute to a sped-up version of the decoration of the rally grounds. When the movie is already so long, why devote more than a few seconds to something no one cares about?

The movie’s strangest sequence also takes place in montage form. As Bhoothnath comes to grips with depth of India’s problems, the song “Sahib” plays accompanied by a montage of photos of desperate, starving people. It’s very grim for a movie geared toward kids, especially since the impoverished state of Akhrot’s own neighborhood is already established.

It’s also hypocritical. Earlier in the film, Akhrot derisively mentions making money from foreign tourists looking to experience Slumdog Millionaire in person. How is turning images of peoples’ suffering into a music video in a major motion picture any different?

The film’s tedious heavy-handedness rankles because it detracts from an otherwise cute movie. Irani’s villain is the right mix of sinister and clownish. Bachchan is both grudging and caring as he puts up with his willful young friend.

Bhalerao does a terrific job as Akhrot, cracking wise but never coming off as a jerk. The young actor is great in a touching scene in which Akhrot tries to conceal the risks of their venture from Bhoothnath.

All the fine performances can’t keep Bhoothnath Returns from turning into a glorified public service announcement. Encouraging people to vote is a worthy goal, but it has to be done within the context of the story.

The pro-voting message comes across clearly through the story of Bhoothnath Returns, but Tiwari doesn’t leave well-enough alone, tacking on at least twenty minutes of condescending speeches. Jarring celebrity cameos by Ranbir Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, and Shahrukh Khan — whose presence is the only one that makes a lick of narrative sense — just add to the feeling that Bhoothnath Returns is as much an overly long PSA as it is a movie.

Links