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Khalid Mohamed’s Film Review: Nil Battey Sannata

By Khalid Mohamed
Originally published in

Khalid Mohamed

Khalid Mohamed

She’s in a quandary. All day long, the multi-tasking housemaid cooks, cleans up crannies and nooks, darts mournful looks at her doozy daughter and fetches clothes for others from the laundry. A veritable Mother Courage, she’s locked in the cage of daily drudgery. Clearly, life for her isn’t a bowl of even half a cherry.

Simple-minded to a fault, debutant director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Nil Battey Sannata, opens on a wearisome note. Wait, wait, wait. Mercifully, the trials-‘n’-tribulations of the singleton Ma Courage, eventually grabs your vote.

Simply because the dramaturgy while dealing with a woman who’s down in the dumps, packs in a number of significant sub-texts ranging from adult education and the power of resilience to the inspiring leitmotif that even in this day and age it’s possible to dream the impossible dream. Hats, caps and bonnets off to Ms Tiwari for emphasising, never to give up hope. It’s a combo of your ‘kismat and mehnat’ which gets you to your goal.

Winning your forgiveness factor, then, for its lapses, the relentless pursuit of happiness by housemaid Chanda (Swara Bhaskar) keeps you engaged in the plot which spins out in the back-lanes of Agra. Subsisting in a just-about inhabitable room, Chanda momma can’t quite handle her teenage daughter (Riya Shukla) who’s rude, talks crude and is an absolute dud at school, particularly in mathematics. No kind of automatic solution in sight. Unless, there’s an eureka moment.

nil battey sannataNot to worry. The maid’s employer-cum-Agony Aunt (Ratna Pathak, delightful) drags her to enrol in the same class as the brat beti. Howzzat! Embarrassed, the daughter wises up some, but still what to do? This brat’s a no-brainer, still ranting and raving that a bai’s child can only become a nanny, at best. Or worst. No options.

Actually, it’s from this deadlock that the film soars.

The script sparks up with surprises and the finale is nothing short of extraordinary, achieving such an emotional impact that it draws your smiles and tears.

Here’s the kind of film that leaves a mark. Yet you wish that mark could have been deeper. The director’s vision doesn’t extend to taking a stand on the condition of domestic helps. On the contrary, there are demeaning references to the professions of househelps and even car drivers. Excuse me

Aspirational is the way to be, goes the drift, an ideology which is rabidly acquisitive and materialistic. Also did I hear right? At two junctures, it is stated categorically that the female gender has more difficulties in coping with maths than males do. Huh, would someone kindly clue me in to this factoid

swara bhaskarAlso, the director’s background in advertising films shows up in the over-glossy and cosmeticised visuals. No issues with that frankly, but the clever conscious camera angles do become obtrusive. And what about those allusions to a balm brand and a cooking masala?

Hmmm, never mind

As said earlier, the overall impact is still substantive and strong. Sensitively observed moments, like the housemaid’s joy on travelling poshly in a car’s backseat, and her interplay with the schoolkids – especially with a maths prodigy – are heart-warming. Ditto the characterisation of the overwrotught school principal-cum-professor who adds gentle, comic touches to the grim proceedings. In fact, as the nutty professor Pankaj Tripathy, is the proverbial scene-stealer. Just for his goofball act, the film’s worth a dekko.

This is not to subtract in any which way from Swara Bhaskar’s excellently modulated performance, underscored with grace and conviction. Riya Shukla, despite an often unsympathetic part, is impressively mercurial.

All seen and studied, Nil Battey Sannata (which can be loosely translated as Zero equal Zero), makes the grade with almost-close to flying colours.


Critics Rating: Three stars

The review was originally published HERE

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