Review – NIL BATTEY SANNATA

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It’s rare to come across films that force you to keep aside your yardsticks of what a good film is and dive into the experience alone. While this one would seem simplistic on narration, it has nuances that put a smile on your face. The film encapsulates the demanding job of a mother and the fret and fluster the role comes with. But it does it in an understated way and doesn’t beg empathy for the characters or their situations.

The film ushers us into the lower middle-class life of Chanda Sahay (Swara Bhaskar) and her daughter Apu/ Apeeksha (Ria Shukla). Chanda juggles many jobs (a maid, a shoe factory worker, a washerwoman) to be able to provide for her daughter. While she has ambitious dreams for her, Apu reasons with her, “ek engineer ka beta engineer banta hain aur ek baai ki beti baai.”

But Chanda isn’t willing to accept this inevitability. When Apu’s dismal academic performance in mathematics becomes a cause for concern, her mother decides to take things in her own hands, literally. And since Apu’s in her 10th standard, her maternal worries are compounded as she fears her daughter would end up as a ‘matric fail’, like her. On being coaxed by her employer, Mrs Diwan (Ratna Pathak Shah), Chanda decides to return to school “to complete her matric”. The plan: challenge Apu to beat her in maths and, in return, get her to pore over the books she so despises. The result is as you’d imagine it to be, but the journey packs in laughs, tears and much emotional gusto.

What sparkles the most in the movie is the dialogue by Nitesh Tiwari, Neeraj Singh and Pranjal Choudhary. One that stands out is Chanda’s observation of a classmate’s hairstyle, “Tere baal dekh ke nahin lagta ki tu kal ki sochta hain.” In another scene, when Apu raises her hand to respond to a question in class, the teacher notes, “Chalo, gaaon mein bijlee aayi toh sahi.”

For Swara Bhaskar, this is a career-defining moment, as it gives her a chance to present her range as an actor. She channels a small town maid and worried mother with just enough crinkles on her forehead.

Ratna Pathak Shah’s Mrs Diwan is deliciously matter-of-fact and occasionally, even a bit disinterested in her maid’s woes, which gives her character a distinct edge. Pankaj Tripathy, as the quirky maths teacher, provides much comic relief, Ria Shukla is suitably grumpy and headstrong as the quintessential brat and Sanjay Suri is restrained in his cameo.

Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari deserves credit for transforming a very average story with a predictable moral into a film that leaves you feeling snug and content. Composer duo Rohan and Vinayak strum up a refreshingly soothing soundtrack, from the playful “Maths Mein Dabba Gul” to the tingling earworm “Murabba”, which plays during the opening credits.

Maths and motherhood are both equally challenging and gratifying. While the former can be mastered with practice, the latter is only practised by masters.