Day 151: Waiting (the film)

Back to my good old habits of solo movie-going, I took myself to catch Waiting this afternoon. It’s a rare luxury on a Monday, and I grabbed the opportunity. I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed it.

Waiting wastes no time in jumping straight to the central set of events around which the entire film is built. I like a film like that. No elaborate and unnecessary back stories – you’re quickly given a glimpse into the character’s immediate past, which is just enough context to understand the present. No overdone sentimentality which, given the theme, would have been quite easy to resort to. Best of all, there’s no gradual build up, it’s a tight film and the story gets right to the heart of it. Within minutes of beginning, you’re introduced to the two main characters, you know what brought them together and very soon into the film you’re sitting in the hospital, waiting.

The main story begin to unwrap immediately and you arrive at the same central point in multiple ways. The contrasts in the characters played by Kalki Koechlin (Tara) and Naseeruddin Shah (Shiv) are juxtaposed beautifully, subtly – with a lot of show-don’t-tell – which was so refreshing to see. His gravitas, her urgency. His dignified, patient hope, her aggressive, demanding inability to wait. So telling of the generational gap between them, without any of the typical strains of ageist dialogue. At one point Tara asks Shiv how he he has become so zen about waiting for his wife to come to from her 8-month coma. And he patiently explains it to her, almost clinically, taking her through the stages of grief, telling her to brace herself for what will be a painful, bitter time of grief. Her grief.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’re expecting a grim, tear-jerker that will tug at your heart and make you come home fearing the day you may lose your significant other. But Waiting was so measured and controlled in its writing, incredibly mature performances by Koechlin and Shah and most of all in its pace, development of the story arc and the perfection in the point at which it ends. You expect it to end, only to momentarily second guess it. And it ends in a soothing, fitting way, without neatly closing all the loops you’ve come to expect in a perfect ending.

The real strength in the film is in the fact that it is about grief, and waiting for the inevitable, and yet it doesn’t leave you feeling melancholic. The characters don’t dwell over the sadness as much as they dive head-on into the period of waiting, which is where all the development happens – the story, each individual character, their personalities, their growing up, the smoothening of rough edges, the acceptance. All of it happens in the waiting.

In groping through the dark, dealing with the heaviness of their respective grief, they’re seldom seen visibly sad. No copious tears, no overwhelming wailing, none of that which you would associate with the portrayal of grief in a Hindi film. Instead they navigate through that grief, peeling back the stereotypical layers you come to expect, and arrive at their respective conclusions in a very relatable way.

Time and again they reject the feel good messages – stay positive, take care of yourself, be strong – that are doled out to people facing impending loss, like quick fixes, like bandaids to seal up the mountain of feelings that are obviously waiting to be felt. Instead, they choose to face their feelings head on – each in their unique way. Sometimes clinging on hoping against hope, sometimes petrified by the fatalistic thoughts, sometimes gently resigned, poignantly hopeful – their reactions are so aptly tied into that which makes their characters distinct, unique. And by the end of the film you see a clear and believable transformation in that too. Gliding through a gamut of emotions – shock, despair, restlessness, rage, and each emotion sees a subtle shift, impacted by their companionship, which is also gently played out, without a forced budding relationship. You’ll notice it in quick, fleeting scenes, clever lines, without an excessive deliberate dwelling on it to drive a point home.

Waiting is a film with a seemingly heavy theme, but it is dealt with, with such finesse and sleight of hand, you’ll be left wondering where the 98 minutes from beginning to end ran out.

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