'Waiting': Dubai Review

WAITING still - H 2015
Courtesy of Dubai Film Festival
A tender, often humorous tale whose sparkling performances are never quite moving.

Generations clash and then bond when a trendy young wife and an elderly professor befriend each other in an Indian hospital.

A drama that plays almost like a rom-com, the lively Indian film Waiting has an unmistakable American flavor to it that may win the Shoreline release international travel windows beyond festivals like Dubai, where it made its bow. Anu Menon’s second directing effort, almost entirely set within the sterile confines of a fancy hospital-clinic, is a big step forward from her debut feature London Paris New York. Here, dignified veteran Naseeruddin Shah and brash young Kalki Koechlin comfort each other as they await the verdict on their seriously ill spouses. Though it’s all about the difficult journey from grief to acceptance, it’s neither gloomy nor particularly moving, just easy viewing full of warm feelings and some charming moments.

Tara (Koechlin) and Rajat (Arjun Mathur) have been married less than a year when the unthinkable happens: a car crash puts him in ICU, hovering between life and death. Full recovery is unlikely, and his head-strong, flighty young bride suddenly finds herself faced with serious decision-making.

Shiv (Shah) and Tara meet in a spanking-white, state-of-the-art private hospital in south India. Their mates are considered near-hopeless cases by the staff. Shiv’s wife of 40 years has been in a coma for eight months, and he is getting less than gentle nudging from her doctor to pull the plug. The tenderness and concern with which he cares for the unresponsive woman, as well as his kindness to the distraught city girl, make him a deeply likable character.

Twenty-something Tara, on the other hand, comes on as short-fused, abrasive and superficial. Koechlin, who won critical notice playing a bisexual girl with cerebral palsy in Margarita, with a Straw, is even more of an irrepressible spirit here in full make-up and revealing dresses. She’s introduced as a perfect airhead boogying in a homemade MTV commercial for sanitary pads. Her apparent handicap is being the product of a well-to-do Indian environment that has trouble making contact with ordinary reality — much less contemplating the possible death of her beloved newlywed husband. But Menon’s screenplay also underlines the generation gap separating her habits and values from Shiv’s. Koechlin does an exceptional job navigating the shoals of this as a kooky drama queen, whose best friend fittingly calls her Baboon.

To Shiv, Tara represents an entitled "Me" generation very different from his own. In one of their first exchanges, she has to explain to him what Twitter is. Yet despite her thousands of followers, she finds herself in a hospital waiting room far from home and completely alone, while Shiv at least has a friendly neighbor who keeps an eye out for him. Shah, who played Captain Nemo in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, brings great feeling and complexity to the role of the wise, tolerant Shiv. But Shiv can also be obsessive and demanding when he shrilly talks to the head doctor (a well-balanced Rajat Kapoor) about experimental treatments for his wife.

In a wry cameo, Rajeev Ravindranathan entertains as Girish, the man from Rajat’s company assigned the thankless task of taking care of details. One would have liked to see more of the tropical paradise of Kochi, which is barely glimpsed from the clinic’s spick-and-span windows.

An Ishka Films, Drishyam Films presentation of an Ishka Films production

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Kalki Koechlin, Arjun Mathur, Rajat Kapoor, Suhasini Maniratnam, Rajeev Ravindranathan, Ratnabali Bhatacharjee 

Director: Anu Menon

Screenwriters: Anu Menon, James Ruzicka

Producers: Priti Gupta, Manish Mundra

Executive producer: Nancy Nisa Beso  

Director of photography: Neha Parti Matiyani

Production designer: Prajakta Ghag

Editor: Nitin Baid

Music: Mikey McCleary

World sales: Shoreline Entertainment

Not rated, 92 minutes