Let’s Talk

Director: Ram Madhavani | Year: 2003

Let Us Talk , ad filmmaker Ram Madhvani’s debut effort has already been shown at various film festivals and reaped accolades. It’s a pity this gem of a film arrived in Bangalore without any pre-release media reports and vanished from the theatre as quietly. But here is a chance for film-lovers to catch the film on television as Star Movies have announced to show it on Sunday, 18th of May.

The film breaks new ground on many fronts and provides a refreshingly different fare, going beyond the superficial chic and trendy humour of most Indian English as well as Indian Diaspora films. There is no attempt here to wring the last drop of humour out of culture clashes, there is no clever exploitation of the Bollywood song and dance routine while seeming to mock at it, there is no attempt to present a menagerie of esoteric characters culled from high society or the urban underbelly. Instead what is offered here is a sincere tract of exploration into human relationship, of a man and a woman, from upper middle-class urban India. It avoids all the crutches of mainstream commercial cinema but doesn’t opt for the standard art-film ingredients either. It is not abstruse, it does not contrive to bring in social relevance by including characters from the underclass, it has humour – dollops of it, drama , first rate performances and it shows a maturity in handling man-woman relationship not seen in any Indian film so far.

let's talk 1

The film begins with the thirty-three year old Radhika discussing with her friend whether she should tell her husband that the child she is expecting may not be his as she has been having an affair with their interior decorator Krishna. A succession of various possible scenarios that Radhika visualizes in her mind as her husband’s possible reactions constitute the film in terms of what unfolds on the screen. It is a format that has been used in a few films abroad, most notably, with impressive success in the recent Run Lola Run. What makes Let’s Talk so satisfying is that the format is used here not as a gimmick but as a way of painting a textured portrait of a man-woman relationship that is quite universal in its essential contours.

Any serious work on adultery from Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary to Lady Chatterly’s Lover is really a study of human aspirations in a specific social context and the dilemma one faces in trying to fulfil them. Man-woman relationships provide a powerful metaphor and parallel for that search. In the case of Let’s Talk, the sighting of Krishna on the streets of Mumbai and ecstatic women devotees chanting the love-god’s name provides the surreal counterpoint to the film’s real narrative underscoring the fact that romance and its nature is the theme of the film.

The first scenario where we learn about the tragic miscarriage of the couple’s first child (“ The doctors called it spontaneous rejection”, Radhika quips to her friend.) creates the emotional backdrop for the ensuing verbal encounters. The different reactions by the husband range from suppressed anger to cynicaldismissal , physical violence , comical assertion of his own sexual prowess and finally, a moment of absolute lyrical beauty, when both husband and wife try to recapture the lost magic of their relationship. This closing scene where Nikhil begins to sing the song that he apparently used to sing to her in the shower, first in a deadpan comic manner, then struggling to infuse all his lost ardour into the rendition and finally regaining the easy flow and the lost magic spurred by the understanding glance from Radhika.

Boman Irani as Nikhil gives a performance that is more akin to a musical recital by a maestro rather than a piece of film acting, such is the control, skill and passion that he packs into his bravura act. He is menacing when he is being the sane. understanding husband at the dining table. ( I am not smashing plates, overturning the table, am I?). He is a laugh riot when he is talking to the underworld don giving out a supari contract on Kris or when he is celebrating his “better in bed” status, singing “ We are the champions”, swinging at a tennis ball with an umbrella, trying to control his unwieldy towel: and he gives you the goosebumps with his shower song. Maia Katrak as Neha has less to do, but she is entirely credible and in character as the bored upper-class urban housewife.

let's talk 2The writing in the film is first rate and quite evidently, must have evolved out of improvisation sessions conducted by the director with the lead actors. For the record, the script has been credited to Ram Madhvani, Sanjay Sipahimalani, Boman Irani and Maia Katrak. The most welcome feature of the writing is the absolutely real feel to the lines spoken by each of the characters. Even in the so-called art films inIndia the lines spoken by characters are often stilted and theatrical. ( One could take films like Astitva or Mr. & Mrs Iyer for comparison.) But here the lines just flow and you don’t realise that you are watching a film where Indian characters are speaking in English. Mind you, their conversation in the film covers everything from sarcasm to emotional outbursts to intimate exchanges. And there are enough allusions and wordplays that root the film in time and place. The digs at the profession of interior decoration, the funny rendition of “ Krishna, you are the greatest musician ”and the bit about the origin of the word supari make sure that the marital drama does not take place in a social vacuum. Though we don’t see Sakshi, the couple’s daughter, or Nikhil’s boss, or his in-laws, their existence is made palpable through the conversation between Nikhil and Radhika. In the end, it is a major triumph for the director, the actors and the new benchmark for Indian film acting, Boman Irani.

But no praise for the film would be complete without a word about the music. The director has stated in interviews that the form of thumri where a single thought is expressed in a multiplicity of moods was the original inspiration for the film. In tune with that thought, composer Ram Sampath has created a masterly fusion version of thumri built around the single line “ Baalam tum kya jaano” which punctuates the different episodes with telling poignancy. The soundtrack album of the film has a much richer fare to offer.Subtitled as Thumris In An Urban Landscape, the album contains some delectable thumris sung by Pandit Channulal Mishra, Zarina Begum, Aruna Sairam, Sipra Bose and Sadat Rampuri, all transformed to an urban sound by the adventurous arrangement by Ram Sampath. He travelled all the way to Benaras, Lucknow, Kanpur and Kolkata in search of the voices that had haunted the creative team as they researched the thumri style for the film score and the album is a marvellous showcase of that effort. You can savour the album as a treat in itself or as a wonderful companion piece to the film after you have seen it.

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