5 April 2010 | Peter_Young
Disturbing bureaucracy, uplifting revolution and empowerment
Vishwam is the youngest brother of the powerful and cruel landowner Zamindar (Amrish Puri). He is married to Rukmani and, unlike his brothers, does not indulge in alcohol or women. But one day the village gets a new school teacher, whose wife Sushila (Shabana Azmi) instantly catches Vishwam's eye. Noticing this, his brothers come one night and kidnap Sushila for all to see, including her husband who tries to stop them but fails. He is shocked that no one of the so many present people dared to even raise a voice to stop this abduction. He turns to every possible authority, including the police, the court, the press, but is shocked to see a complete rejection resulting from the fear to face off the Zamindar.
This is the story of Shyam Benegal's Nishaant, a well-made film which portrays the state of those times' rural India. The film depicts a reality which is a bit difficult to see. The proceedings are very serious and the film is dark and dim. Benegal's direction is excellent, with a serene narrative style that easily conveys the raw atmosphere of the village as well as the film's own mood. It is realistic and authentic, without any overt dramatisation. I did expect more from the ending though. The light at the end of the tunnel does finally seem to appear, but sadly the story itself remains somewhat incomplete and doleful. I think the ending did give the viewer an opportunity to interpret it the way he wants to, which is great, but one would expect to see some brightness in it.
The film shows us the power of human nature. While Sushila terribly misses her son and goes through emotionally destructive experiences of gang-rape and humiliation, she later accepts the cruel reality, finds comfort in the house and ultimately starts getting attracted to the quiet Vishwam. Her absence tortures her husband and his helplessness makes his life miserable. One of the film's best scenes is when they finally meet in a local temple. She preaches him for his cowardice, ironically, in the same way he himself did with the people who did not stop her kidnappers. This makes him realise that a change must happen within the simple people and not the landowners.
The film is very well acted. Girish Karnad is excellent as the tormented teacher who loses his wife and is unable to get her back. Shabana Azmi is outstanding as Sushila in a restrained and deep act. I particularly liked her outburst at her husband. Her anger was so easy to relate to. Smita Patil makes her acting debut with this very film and though her part is small, she makes the best of every scene she appears in. Amrish Puri is successfully frightening as the merciless Zamindar. Naseeruddin Shah is as always wonderful and his character is very sympathetic despite the conflict it creates. The boy who plays Sushila's son is extremely cute.
Nishaant is a good film, a disturbing, real and engaging piece. What I particularly liked about the film is its unpredictability right until the very final scenes. My main complaint is that it was a tad too slow for my liking. While in the second half it gets far more enjoyable, and the film is thoroughly engaging thanks to its story and fantastic execution, the pace was still somewhat dragged, and at times made me like squirming in my seat. Nonetheless, it's a worthy effort. To those who expect to be purely entertained, this may not be the right film, but those who appreciate artistic excellence will definitely enjoy watching this picture.