The indications were all there in the promo itself. You pretty much knew what to expect, courtesy the promo which neatly gave the complete outline of the story. Girl (Ria Shukla) is disinterested in studies (especially maths), mother (Swara Bhaskar) wants her to get good education and live a better live than hers, a conflict arises, mother enrolls herself in the same class as daughter, and now there is competition in-house. You also know where it would all end by the way.
The cards had all been opened by first time director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, which means there was no surprise per se awaiting you as an audience. Of course, movies made with a school set up are far few. A couple of first ones that come to mind are Taare Zameen Par and Stanley Ka Dabba. Incidentally both had Amol Gupte at the helm of affairs. Nonetheless, Nil Battey Sannata – with its backdrop of studies – is essentially a mother-daughter tale. I have personally see housemaids struggling to ensure that their daughter do better in life. They need all the help (and guidance), something which is provided by Ratna Pathak Shah here.
Meanwhile Ashwiny ensures that for a large part of the film, the narrative stays light hearted and doesn’t delve into an overtly emotional zone. In my conversations with her, she had clearly stated that ‘bhaashan-baazi’ and ‘gyaan’ is something that she was averse to. This is demonstrated in the film too as instead of stepping into the ‘Rashtriya Saaksharta Mission’ advertisement, she gets the conversation rolling between Swara, Ria and their friend. So what you get to see are several bitter-sweet moments that keep the short and sweet 100 minute running length largely engaging for most part of it.
That said, there are no major ups or downs in the film. In a film belonging to this genre, which is led more by content than quintessential Bollywood stars, it would have made for an even more entertaining view had the narrative been set up as a roller coaster ride. In case of Nil Battey Sannata, it is more of moments and dialogues that keep the ship sailing.
This is where experienced actors like Ratna Pathak Shah and Pankaj Tripathi (as the maths teacher) come in handy. While former stays on to be heartwarming as ever, latter makes sure that his natural act not just keeps you smiling but also brings on chuckles at many points. On the other hand the central protagonists here, Swara and Ria, come up with an act that goes pretty well with the genre.
Swara has a characteristic style of acting and it is the ‘desi’ act that she truly excels in. She gets it right here as well. On the other hand Ria does well in staying away from the cute girl act, though at places she seems to be acting tougher than perhaps she had to, just in order to demonstrate her headstrong nature before the audience.
Meanwhile, Ashwini ensures that for her first ever directorial outing, she makes much more than just her presence felt. Nil Battey Sannata could well have qualified as one amongst many festival films. However, her conviction as well the confidence shown in her by the production team, and then Aanand L Rai and Eros who came on board, lend her a good enough platform to elevate from this point on.
Watch it, you won’t regret it.
Joginder Tuteja tweets @tutejajoginder