Thankfully for us, the past few years have seen “Indie” films (popularly nicknamed in India as parallel cinema, i.e. do not boast of the typical masala bolly-fare) going mainstream. While Indian audiences are still miles away from giving our independent filmmakers the same adulation as our commercial ‘big-production-house’ backed directors, it is heartening to see that what was earlier restrictive to select art audiences and festivals screenings is getting a healthier reception among regular cinegoers. Making rounds of several national plus International film festivals, Sudhish Kamath’s (co-written with Shilpa Rathnam) Good Night | Good Morning is an independent film about an all-night phone call between two strangers. Sudhish, an expert movie critic; fabulous host on a chat show (Hands up), goes behind the camera for the second time, with this 80 odd-minutes film.
New Year’s Eve in New York City, Turiya (Manu Narayan), out at a pub with his bunch of boys JC (Raja Sen), Hussein (Vasanth Santosham) plus another inebriated guy (though I’m unsure why he was needed) spot an unaccompanied Moira (Seema Rahmani). Even though the group is shunned by Moira when they approach her at the pub; upon leaving the place, Turiya (who is road-travelling with his lads) calls Moira (who is back at her hotel room). What starts as smart talk between strangers soon turns into a candid candid tête-à-tête about love, relationships, life and the fancy things that go with it.
The lead pair does an exceptionally competent job of enacting their director’s vision to the ‘T’. They are compelling, maintain consistent body languages and exude great screen presence to reach out to the audiences. Even though the characters are merely connected over phone, their chemistry shines throughout. It takes lesser time for the audience to be charmed by the duo, than it does for them to eventually fall for each other. Manu’s ‘Turiya’ is the quintessential urbane boy – tries to say the right things, is dumbfounded when he quite often has his foot-in-his-mouth moments and turns to pals endlessly for prompts on the trickier questions. He constantly finds himself swinging between safe humor and measured clever talk, ensuring he maintains the right balance to impress (or rather not offend) the girl. Seema’s ‘Moira’ is so relatable that I kept thinking this is EXACTLY what I would have said/done. She’s confident but vulnerable, liberal but conformist. She wants to trust the guy, but remains guarded; slams him the first time he tries to make small-talk as a stranger, but almost instantly calls him back probably realizing he isn’t a creep with weird fetish. Holds onto her identity, weighs her words, and flirts cautiously so as to not be perceived as easy. She goes through the same emotional roller-coaster that most of us single, new-age feminists do, secretly craving attention but being wary of any guy approaching us, thinking he is a chauvinist just like the rest, which (I quote from HITCH) “life experiences has taught, is a virtual certainty”. The cameos are excellent as screen fillers, but sadly the quirks and one-liners are comparatively disappointing.
Sudhish had me bowled over at the opening credits when he decided to use jazz music score, it served the perfect momentum for the rest of the film. Without getting into much technical details, black & white scheme works perfectly to lend an old-world mystique of romances, split screen technique of showing Turiya’s and Moira’s settings is apt as it ensures we get to simultaneously see the reactions of both characters to a particular situation. Bingo!
The screenplay is the undisputed USP of the film. It’s the usual boy-meets-girl premise but with an expertly drafted account of the varied stages of a relationship. Minute scene detailing, its backdrops, have been wonderfully thought about. My favorite bit about the movie is that it consciously restrains itself from resorting to clichés. Eg: Despite Moira’s failed past, it does not put her off men completely. Even though she says she doesn’t believe in love, she isn’t averse to the feeling or the possibility that she could fall in love someday. When she professes that she’s optimistic, makers give us reason to believe her. Another major comfort is the unabashed individuality the film maintains, taking us far away from Bollywood’s brain-dead romances in which oversmart-confused boy is right, but secure-levelheaded girl is proven wrong. Apart from being delightfully entertaining, the film encourages to think – about new beginnings, ‘the end’, commitments, re-bound, holding up and letting go, forgiving, forgetting, the ‘happily-ever-after’. In short, there is a little bit for everyone.
Reason 3 (and the most important) that made me fall in love with GNGM are the dialogues. For me personally, the headiest stimulant there ever can be, is being part of a witty, sharp conversation. GNGM gets full marks for not only keeping it absolutely real, but more so for never letting it slip away. The dialogues hold true to the vocabulary of the day, are supremely effective because they never come across as scripted, rather flow on naturally. Background score fills in nicely without being distractive, cinematography in general but in specific opening credits which briefly familiarizes trademark New York, is impressive.
Very few times do we come across a cinema that consumes you in a way that you’re delighted, awed and indulged in a single shot. GN|GM is the very kind of cinema that tugs the heart for its earnest intentions and unadulterated cinematic treat. I found myself watching and re-watching some splendid scenes, from the initial awkwardness, subdued seductions, and unspoken confessions. It all feels wonderfully real that I am almost tempted to pick up the phone and have one such rendezvous of my own. Clocking at close to 77mins, Good Night | Good Morning successfully brings alive on celluloid one of my favorite sayings, ‘If you won’t let go of old memories, there won’t be room for new ones’. For those who haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, make sure you do not miss this one. Highly Recommended.