Waiting: On the pause before a loss

It’s not those who are mortally ill or injured, but the people around them who make for the more poignant stories. How their lives change inalterably in just a wink of the eye, how things come to a grinding halt, how another person suddenly takes priority over their own self, how they may often forget to even laugh or cry at things, how they may have to go through the motions of death while being alive themselves. And how they may also find a spot of happiness and sunshine and let their hair down once in a while in the midst of overwhelming gloom.

Waiting is about two such people. It affectingly catches the tentative pause in their personal lives in the shadow of a looming loss. It’s about swinging between hope and despair. It’s about a bond forged in the face of a possible bereavement.

Shiv (Naseeruddin Shah) and Tara (Kalki Koechlin) strike an unusual friendship in a hospital. He has been nursing his comatose wife for eight months. She is coming to terms with the critical brain injury suffered by her husband in a road accident.

The two are a study in contrast — be it their age, personality or lingo. They are on radically different journeys when it comes to coping with grief. He, in the autumn of his life, has accepted and reconciled with things, found a new pattern, people and associations, has read all the medical journals on his wife’s condition, blinded himself to any negativity while living stubbornly in hope — a perpetual, but perhaps ineffective, hope.

She is a young hipster, at the point where he would have been in the past: smarting in the face of life’s vagaries, unable to come to terms with things, seething with rage, finding herself utterly lonely in her pain (despite Twitter followers in the thousands), trying to find her very own coping mechanism with shopping rather than God.

The film is a journey in which they both have to embrace contradictory pulls — to pull the plug and let go or to hang in there and keep the faith.

It’s a tale which could have easily lapsed into soppy sentimentality or left the audience utterly depressed. But it doesn’t. It is remains emotional without turning maudlin. The people, situations, relationships, feelings are layered, warm and humourous, ringing true in their complexities. All because of the writing that is sensitive and dignified without any false notes.

There is an unmistakable lightness of touch in dealing with a sombre subject. Humour is woven in just as gently into the narrative as pain. Some bittersweet moments stand out. Naseer explaining the different stages of sorrow, for instance, makes for a profound but not ponderous sequence. Then there is a senior doctor telling his junior on how to break the bad news to the patient, funny but wryly so.

The performances match the script in their nuance and effortlessness. Naseer personifies wit and grace and Kalki is all energy and together they share a great vibe. There’s something equally heart-warming about the characters around them, especially the hard-nosed, professional yet likeable doctor (Rajat Kapoor) or the

restive friend (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) who is there for Tara, yet torn by the demands of her own family.

One had misgivings about the film before viewing it. Is it poaching the ground already trodden in Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her and Anne Le Ny’s Those Who Remain? Not quite. Waiting manages to stand on its own emotional ground and gently reiterates the one thing we all know and would have experienced at some point in time: the agonising fragility and precariousness that comes as a package deal with life.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 9:03:21 AM |

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