Movie Review: Nil Battey Sannata

April 22, 2016
Handout photo: Actor Swara Bhaskar in 'Nil Battey Sannata'

Handout photo: Actor Swara Bhaskar in “Nil Battey Sannata”

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Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s “Nil Battey Sannata” (a slang for incompetent) is a charming little film that shines a light on people we tend to overlook in movies and in our daily lives – domestic helps. They are the inconspicuous hands that clean our houses, look after our children and cook our meals, but who often don’t get days off or a place at our table, and certainly not a movie about their life.

The quintessential domestic help in Bollywood films is “Ramu Chacha”, with the ubiquitous gamcha (cotton towel) around his shoulders, an appropriately servile expression and usually scurrying around to do his master’s bidding. But in “Nil Battey Sannata”, Tiwari goes deep into the narrow lanes where domestic help Chanda and her daughter live. She follows Chanda as she hurries from one job to the other, sorting spices, packing shoes and cooking other people’s meals for a living. Her daughter Apeksha is a headstrong teenager who stumbles her way through school and would much rather watch a Bollywood movie than study mathematics, the bane of her existence.

The mother, worried about her daughter’s complete lack of ambition and her own inability to help her with her studies, decides that the only remedy is to join school herself. Egged on by a benevolent doctor who employs her (Ratna Pathak Shah), Chanda enrolls in the same school as her daughter.

Apeksha is mortified and like all teenagers, does what she knows best – sulk. But when Chanda wins over her friends and the earnest school principal (Pankaj Tripathy), Apeksha realizes that she has competition she hadn’t bargained for.

The biggest plus here is that there is none of the heavy-handedness that often accompany a narrative around poverty and the debilitating effect it can have on people. The dialogue is smart and focuses on the bond between mother and daughter. The desire to rise above one’s lot and dream about a better future is an important motif, but it never eclipses the relationship at the heart of the film.

Swara Bhaskar as Chanda and Riya Shukla as Apeksha are mostly in sync with each other and share an easy rapport that translates into some lovely scenes. Tripathy as the eccentric and always animated principal provides a chunk of the humour and is a delight to watch. The screenplay can’t escape a few bumps, and some scenes such as a chance meeting with a benevolent civil servant come across as gimmicky. But these are small hiccups in what is otherwise a film that is bound to bring a smile to your face.

(Editing by David Lalmalsawma; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and David @davidlms25. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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