Mumbai, 20 Jul 2017 17:08 IST
Director Govind Nihalani takes a cue from his own film, Party (1984), as he portrays the mindset of individuals through conversations during one night at a party.
Govind Nihalani gets back to film direction after a 13-year long hiatus with the Marathi film Ti Ani Itar, based on Manjula Padnabhan’s 1984 English play Lights Out.
The film begins with Naina Godbole (Sonali Kulkarni) bumping into a suspicious stranger in the lift. Once inside the home, Kulkarni and her maid Rinku seem disturbed about something. Kulkarni’s husband Aniruddha (Subodh Bhave ) is on his way home. The couple is hosting a party in honour of Naina, a singer, whose first solo album has just released. Kulkarni’s brother (Avishkar Darvhekar), journalist friend (Amruta Subhash) and a married couple (Priya Marathe and Bhushan Pradhan) arrive at the party.
The first half introduces each of the characters as they indulge in casual talk, with a shadow of some mysterious happenings in an under construction building facing the apartment complex looming over the host couple.
A beautiful rendition of Sachin Shafaq’s ghazal, sung by Aditi Paul, is used effectively to shift gears and get into the heart of the matter — a girl screaming and crying for help. It's a great device used to develop the characters in two distinct parts of the night. As time goes by each of their mindsets towards women's issues — domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape — begin to unravel.
What happens when a group of people witness something terrible from the confines of their drawing room? With Ti Ani Itar, Nihalani delves into the subject of how the sushikshit (educated) and susanskrut (cultured) class prefers to turn a blind eye to the crimes happening around them as they fear the repercussions, until it affects them or if there is no turning back. While they discuss several issues sitting in their living rooms, they prefer inaction over participation. A little act of courage though can go a long way.
Ti Ani Itar has some great talent attached to it. While the screenplay is in the hands of a veteran like Shanta Gokhale, the direction is by the able Nihalani. The cast is full with some good actors — from Kulkarni and Bhave to Subhash and Darvhekar. So the quality of the content is definitely in the right hands.
Establishing characters in a matter of one night based mainly on conversations is a tough ask, but Gokhale’s writing does it well. Yet, the characters themselves seem like tokens — a fiery do-gooder journalist, a happy go lucky bachelor and a fearful young man and his subdued wife.
Nihalani tried a similar story-telling technique in his 1984 Hindi film, Party, which was also based on a play (by Mahesh Elkunchwar). In that film, a party is hosted in the honour a celebrated playwright, who has just been awarded the prestigious National Literary Award. The conversations of the attendees, who are all patrons of art, reveal their callousness towards the inequities in society at large.
Here the conversations of the attendess reveal that while the cultured middle-class is always discussing lofty ideas, they are actually callous or fearful, and prefer to remain silent when it comes to violence against women. Like Party, Nihalani once again attempts to create drama that is confined to just one indoor location (inside an apartment), this time with societal attitudes towards sexual violence and human trafficking at the centre.
Nihalani's message is ‘silence is not an option’ which is always easier said than done, as the director leaves the ending open-ended. In the larger context, he depicts what could happen if society continues to remain silent when it comes to crime against woman. It will affect each of our lives adversely at some point, throwing the civilised society into chaos.
Where Nihalani fails is in adapting the play to cinema effectively, which is always a tricky affair, especially so if you are planning to stay true to the original. Satyadev Dubey’s Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (1971) did that brilliantly. Incidentally, Nihalani was the cameraman on that film. Here, the actions of the characters feel too staged and their reactions seem over-simplified. The mystery does not even begin to unfold till almost half-way through. Post interval the conversations begin to drag and become exasperating.
Ti Ani Itar is flawed, but it will make you think about your own values after you have stepped outside the theatre: how would you react if a crime were to happen right before your eyes? It will also make you ponder over the difference between your thoughts and actions (or the lack of it) when it comes to voilence against women. But when you are still watching the on-goings on the screen, you may feel fatigued.