Old Jack here has been remiss. I hold my hands up and admit my knowledge of Indian film is lamentable. So, a quick show of ignorance, context and the power of Wiki: if Indian film is Indywood, filmed across the whole country and in various languages, Bollywood is the product of Hindi-cinema based in Mumbai (old Bombay…which explains the Bolly part…or something). Got that? Now, language: Bollywood films are largely in Hindi, but a modern trend is to use Hinglish, a portmanteau language mixing Hindi and English within sentences and often alternating (sort of) sentences. Which is fun! It’s rather like those Nordic Noir programmes where the Danes all suddenly start talking english and you realise the sub-titles have gone. Anyway, all this I learned when Vibrant Vinay pulled me into the TV room with the promise of an education. He’s a big fan of Naseeruddin Shah and wanted me to bask in his touching performance as an old man with a comatose wife, a befriender of a young woman with a comatose husband, together just…Waiting.
The story isn’t particularly balanced, instead focusing mostly on Kalki Koechlin as Tara Deshpande. She is terrific, but let down early on by a script that makes her seem shrill and panicky. Her character reacts instantly to sights and fresh thoughts, which is a bit stressful to watch. In the character’s defence, she has arrived in a spookily modern, empty hospital to find her husband comatose after a car accident. Far from home, she tells neither her family nor his: she is wrapped up in her love for him, flashbacks full of warmth and intimacy, as they have been married for under a year. Touching.
Also there, in a vigil for his wife of forty years, is the far more ‘zen’ Shiv Kumar (Shah). His wife has been in a coma for months, it becomes apparent that he is spending money hand over fist to keep her life support going, and things are about to get difficult. His flashbacks gradually reveal a greater complexity: forty years together without kids will test a couple and Shiv carries pockets of guilt for some old mistakes. Old Jack here recognised a man terrified of losing his wife and, well, watch the film. Shah gives flashbacks with his wife Pankaja (Suhasini Maniratnam) and the scenes at her comatose side an energy and affection that validates the rage to come.
But first, the bonding. Tara and Shiv become waiting-room friends. Her emoting, him calming. There’s a balance that can’t really last and, triggered by the grown-up-with-bad-news doctor (Rajat Kapoor giving it good medico…marching on despite the sense that the film doesn’t like him…), both Tara and Shiv are given harsh choices to contemplate. Tara’s husband needs a major brain operation; Shiv’s wife has had all the time that is affordable or medically reasonable on her life-support. Our heroes fall out over their reactions and you really feel the gap between them.
Okay, you know they’re going to make peace and they do, in my favourite sequence, a crazy night of dancing around Shiv’s place. It’s worth the wait and shows this relationship as one of honest friendship, despite a significant age difference. Oh, and there’s none of that old-man-learns-he-can’t-fancy-the-beautiful-girl stuff (Venus (2006) or Mr Morgan’s Last Love (2013)), so, there’s a relief.
As Vibrant Vinay intended, with all his Hindi songs and challenges to my ignorance, old Jack rather enjoyed Waiting. You’ll need to watch it to see how the comas play out, and the decisions these next of kin make for their loved ones. But rest assured that this is a modern film, simply but beautifully shot, with some cracking performances between the generations. Yeah, there are limitations in the emotionalism of the script (that kind of immediacy has a soapy feel that makes me flinch), but the differences and similarities between a young couple and an old one are interesting and – given Shiv’s mistakes – telling.
Ooh – and it’s on Netflix!