Silence Movie Review: A convoluted screenplay fails to mask fundamental flaws
An underwhelming film that turns painful towards the end
Nishabdham begins with a bag of horror clichés. There’s a flashback. We see a villa in 1920s America. The camera’s already peeking from behind a curtain and letting out menacing whispers. You know the rest. The residents see strange activity, descend into the cellar, and get themselves offed by you-don’t-know-who. The man is found crucified on the wall, and this is an image that gets repeated in the film, barely 10 minutes later. Had this been a better film, I would have been tempted to say that the symbolism means something, and that the second person, in a sense, is paying for the sins of others. However, Nishabdham, given how underwhelming it is, deserves no such reading.
Soon, you are introduced to Sakshi (Anushka Shetty), a deaf-and-mute painter, and her fiancé, Anthony (Madhavan), a cellist so rich that the number of zeroes he adds on a cheque makes an onlooker almost faint. They are introduced to you through the happy-couple-in-a-car song. You know, where the man is driving with an eye on the road but with the other on his girlfriend’s antics, whose chirpy behaviour typically includes standing in the convertible and swinging her dupatta about, as though it were her first time in a car. Sakshi and Anthony are heading towards this haunted villa near Seattle, and while in your usual horror cinema, a couple moving into a horror villa is par for the course, here, the couple is said to be going in to retrieve a painting. You learn this information not through graceful, organic sharing of information but through an awkward, forced exchange outside the villa when Anthony suddenly asks, “So, only if you get the painting that’s inside this villa, are you going to be satisfied, right?” I was shocked that Sakshi didn’t respond, “Eh? What have we come all this way for then?”
Anyway, the couple enter, something happens, the police come in, and the actual film begins. Unfortunately for us though, the police are made up of—as is the case with many of our films that have international talent—bad actors, led by Michael Madsen who looks and acts like he couldn’t care less. He plays a tough cop called Richard Dawkins, and while I wondered if this was a homage to the science and rationality of the real Richard Dawkins, it soon becomes apparent that this character is quite the opposite. Sometime later, Dawkins gets called Dickens for some reason, and nobody seems to care—so I didn’t either. Madsen, who Wiki describes as being known for playing ‘careless, terrifying bas*****’ plays one such character here. Perhaps that’s an inside joke because the likable Subbaraju (who plays a wildlife photographer called Vivek) calls him as much towards the end. Dawkins/Dickens, you should know, is a cop in perennial rage who’s either throwing or destroying objects around him including a television and a desktop computer. If he hadn’t reminded me of Senthil in ‘Columbus Columbus’ (Jeans) engaging in similar destruction, I might have been more frustrated.
It’s a convoluted script carefully designed to reveal the story one twist at a time. I didn’t really mind this idea, but each reveal is so fleeting and in a hurry to get to another one that you are barely allowed the time to soak in the new information. This is why though there’s underlying extreme emotion guiding many of the characters in this film, you don’t really care for any of them. Sakshi, raised in an orphanage, is an ambitious painter who’s looking to belong in the real world. Anthony is dealing with the aftermath of great trauma. So is detective Dawkins/Deakins. There’s another character, Sonali (Shalini Pandey), who’s a possessive type and has a pretty strange way of testing the loyalty of men. I cared most for Subbaraju’s Vivek who is hopelessly stuck among many loony people.
Without giving away too much, let me say that this is also a film in the Sigappu Rojakkal-Manmadhan mould. While it does touch upon the occasional sinful man, you do get the sense that it portrays men as victims and women as sinners of the flesh. As one character begins unleashing violence, you even get a sympathetic song in the background that looks to evoke sympathy towards the psychotic man. It’s a pity that it almost masks the real horror as sentiment.
I won’t remember much of this film—good for me—save for one of the funniest murder scenes I’ve seen in a while. It’s a scene of a cop murdering another in broad daylight. He does this by drawing the victim’s attention to something outside the window, and while the latter stands stupidly staring, he asphyxiates him. Sure, it could happen, but it’s enacted so unenthusiastically that you don’t buy it for a second. The victim moves his free hand towards the gun, but then, as though to instructions from behind the camera, he urgently moves his hand away, and pretends to fall dead. It’s hilarious.
The only portion I found reasonably engaging is the ‘meet-cute’ between Sakshi and Anthony. They travel in America, learning each other’s skills, getting comfortable with each other. But even here, before you can breathe in their relationship, the film is in a hurry to take you to a ‘thrilling’ scene where a girl stabs a man’s hand with a fork. I dare say I can relate to that man’s pain having endured the bad lip-sync after making the initial decision to watch this film in Tamil. Switching to the Telugu version of the film helped, although Madhavan’s dialogues appeared to be in Tamil. The lip sync should not really have been a problem, given that this film was originally conceived as a silent film. If it had been, one might at least have been saved from Madsen sleepwalking through his lines. In this film about many victims, I ultimately switched off the television feeling like the real one was me.