Nirvana Inn Movie Review: An existential film masquerading as a horror thriller
A thriller at a surface level that is wholly enjoyable for the way it uses a lot of Hitchcockian elements in the script like Tamil films and serials of yore
The stoic philosopher Seneca once said, “Every guilty person is his own hangman.” This could well be the tagline of Nirvana Inn, a film written and directed by Vijay Jayapal, on the manifestations of survivor’s guilt. Jayapal conceptualised this film after he read a newspaper article about a suicidal pilot crashing his own plane with passengers aboard. Jayapal has given a delicious ‘What-if’ spin on this incident in the form of Nirvana Inn, fronted by Adil Hussain.
Adil is Jogiraj Chakraborty, a man who has migrated from his hometown of Majuli in Assam to Himachal Pradesh, where he becomes the caretaker of the eponymous Nirvana Inn. Within days of taking up this new position, we learn that he is the only survivor of a boat accident back home and to his horror, people who he thought were dead, start checking-in to the hotel. Are these hallucinations? Or are they real people? Or is it something else altogether?
Cast: Adil Hussain, Sandhya Mridul, Rajshri Deshpande
Director: Vijay Jayapal
Nirvana Inn, a thriller at the surface level, is wholly enjoyable for the way it uses a lot of Hitchcockian elements in the script like Tamil films and serials of yore. The segments involving Leela (a dramatic Sandhya Mridul), a scriptwriter sketching a horror story, immediately reminded me of Pizza. Rajshri Deshpande’s character is reminiscent of Jayalalithaa in Yaar Nee. The character of Jogiraj's town brings to mind Marmadesam and Vidathu Karuppu.
But what I really enjoyed about Nirvana Inn is the much deeper exploration of the human psyche. Majuli is the largest river island in the world, and it is probably a testament to the mental state of Jogi — that feeling of being stuck in a place with no escape. I could almost hear Simon and Garfunkel sing, “A rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.” Art sometimes is a great escape for such souls, and we see the famous Bhaona art form of Majuli (and that of Assam) in play here. Bhoana is well known for its depiction of Rasa Leela, and the two onscreen depictions we see are contrasting in nature. On the outside, a man is asked to play the Asura and in the confines of his mind, he is a Deva (or Krishna, it is not explicitly stated). What happens then if an Asura doesn’t want to live anymore? Where does he go? It is a particularly beautiful question. One that leads us to the film’s title.
Nirvana is moksha aka liberation. When one checks in to the Nirvana Inn, is it truly a liberation of the art like it is for Leela, the story writer? That she is named so, is also quite poignant. In Hindu mythology, liberation comes at the end of multiple cycles of births and deaths. So how many deaths should happen before one is truly liberated? And what exactly dies at the Nirvana Inn? Is it a placeholder – like Trishanku’s heaven? There is, after all, a character named Mohini, who, aside from clear bisexual behaviour, is also tasked with guarding the Amrut from the Asura. At this point, it was Don Henley singing in my head: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
This deep dive is ably complimented by the camerawork of Jayanth Mathavan, whose shots are consistently interesting. His David Lean-esque opening shot sets you up for multiple such ones. The first six minutes of the film — when not a single dialogue is spoken — also shows why cinema, when used as a purely visual medium, can be really effective. But the frequent cutaways to Adil’s face, when registering shock/horror/surprise, are quite overused. The sound too gets repetitive and overbearing at times. While this does not spoil the tension as a whole, I felt that silence would have been more effective in a lot of places.
Nirvana Inn, contrary to most horror thrillers, is shot primarily in the daytime, and this is important. Because here is a film that tells us the deep darkness of the mind doesn’t wait for the sun to set to rear its head. When Cobain sings, “I’m so happy because today I found my friends, they’re in my head,” people often forget that there is another line in the song — “We’ve broken our mirrors.” And that reminds me of what best sums up Nirvana Inn: Oscar Wilde’s line in The Picture of Dorian Gray – “It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”