There is a particular pleasure to watching a movie made by a trained journalist: you know the crediting will be impeccable, you know Billy Wilder and Balachander are getting saluted in the first few frames. And then comes Art Gilmore's majestic voice booming the introduction. You might guess Good Night/Good Morning will have elements of the genius from the three and probably sit up in anticipation. But Sudhish Kamath's film is best watched with a mind that is totally open, totally in the now.
On most points, GNGM is a digi-gen flick. The story is told through a night-long cell phone conversation between strangers; on one side of the chat is a man (Manu Narayan) on a long drive with friends, on the other, an insomniac woman (Seema Rahmani) in a hotel room. The woman is in transit, waiting to catch a flight; the man is driving back after partying in New York. The content of the chats is underwritten by the comfort of anonymity. There's a big nod to multi-tasking skills and the ability to think coherently at short notice. There is the “I can get away saying anything” cockiness, “girls don't take shit” confidence. It's when the viewer gets “into” the conversation that Kamath lets out the unpalatable. The emotional baggage the young carry tumbles out, and you begin to glimpse the grief in the inability to sustain relationships. All of our connectivity, our celebrated sense of freedom and our expertise in chic conversation are just another kind of trap. We have to be on the go-go-go, have heart-to-heart conversations within earshot of pals, follow their decisions and hide our tears when heart-broken. Life is lived with the phone attached to the ear, supported by information dug out by Google. Anything beyond is too scary to explore.
The movie is clever, it's subtle. It's for a generation for whom silence is not a virtue.
Kamath and his team (Script: Sudhish Kamath/Shilpa Rathnam, Cinematography: Nischalakrishna Vittalanathan) get a lot of things right. GNGM is slickly-edited and stays just 73 minutes long. The monotony of the one-act, split-screen setting is broken by clever shots and camera angles. The narration is sustained by smooth, crisp, everyday speech. The black-and-white of the movie — a reach-out to the romantic era — breaks out in coloured visuals to heighten the twist in the narration. The “no” to stereo-typing of the woman is an open announcement. The acting is just what you ask for. The eight stages of romance — the Icebreaker, the Honeymoon, the Reality Check, the Break-up, the Patch-up, the Confiding, the Great Friendship and the Killing Confusion — are an intelligent assessment of the plot-in-conversation. Fun? Yes. But it's the lump in your throat, the loss you feel deep in the diaphragm that GNGM's greatest triumph.
Kamath describes the movie as “experimental”. Why? It is the song-and-dance, the long street fights that are experimental. Here is a movie that gently, amusingly persuades us into seeing the kind of pass our lives have come to. This is who we are, what we do. This is us, our love, our loss. Yeah, we're brave, we can take on the world, shrug off failures and “move on”, but is that what we really want? What can be more realistic?
Will its novelty work at the box office? As an independent movie-maker, Kamath walks a very thin rope here. GNGM is a small-budget film — the shoestring is evident — and so there isn't much cash for an all-out marketing extravaganza. But it is a tech-based film, so all one needs is an Arab Spring moment to spread the buzz. Like picking up the cellphone to punch the words.
Good Night, Good Morning
Director: Sudhish Kamath
Cast: Manu Narayan, Seema Rahmani, Vasanth Santosham and Raja Sen.
Storyline: An all-night phone call between two strangers on New Year's night in New York City. Their ups and downs and hang-ups.
Bottomline: Be prepared to listen, more than watch. Are you prepared for a cerebral challenge?