R Madhavan and Anushka Shetty in <i>Silence / Nishabdham.</i>

Nishabdham: R Madhavan, Anushka Shetty’s Thriller Fails to Impress

Despite stars like R Madhavan and Anushka Shetty this thriller turns out to be a disappointment.

Movie Reviews
4 min read

Nishabdham: R Madhavan, Anushka Shetty’s Thriller Fails to Impress

Nishabdham opens with a couple dancing in 1972. The setting for this thriller is a simple villa situated outside Seattle. When the woman excuses herself to change her dress, the man – feeling invited by the cacophony emanating from the basement – walks towards the inevitable, and is killed by a ghost. This premise is the best part of the film as everything goes downhill from here. There’s not a single redeeming point beyond the first seven minutes in this R Madhavan and Anushka Shetty-starrer and that should tell you how disappointing the film is.

I picked the Tamil version (titled Silence) and switched over to the Telugu version half-an-hour into the movie as I was under the impression that at least the latter would have no problems with the lip-sync. Alas, my method failed since Nishabdham, too, looked like it had been dubbed in parts. Therefore, it doesn’t matter which version you choose, you’ll still watch the tale of Anthony (Madhavan) and Sakshi (Anushka Shetty) with some amount of raw irritation.

R Madhavan in <i>Silence / Nishabdham.</i>
R Madhavan in Silence / Nishabdham.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)
The basic elements of the protagonists seem to have been taken from the popular 2007 Tamil film, Mozhi, where Jyothika played a deaf-mute character with Prithviraj stepping into the shoes of a musician.

Here, Anthony is a celebrated cello player and Sakshi (who is deaf and mute) is an artist. While the dashing Anthony is adored by thousands for his ability to transport his listeners into a state bordering tranquility, Sakshi is known to just a couple of folks who fall within her circle. But the movie doesn’t dwell on their artistic sides much, as their professional lives are merely used as a device to bring the principal characters together. Though, there are many portions involving the duo indulging in their creative fields separately, the director’s (Hemant Madhukar) focus appears to be far removed from that area.

Since Sakshi doesn’t speak, the people around her keep talking and fill in for her silence. Only the introductory bits where she romances Anthony from the back seat of the car are shot from her perspective. As soon as that part of the story is established, a song unnecessarily pops up and puts a spoke in Nishabdham’s wheel. If you want to know more about why they’re going to a haunted villa, you’ll have to wait for a few more minutes and that’s how your patience begins to wear off.

Anushka Shetty in <i>Silence / Nishabdham</i>.
Anushka Shetty in Silence / Nishabdham.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Like any good thriller, Nishabdham also revolves around a crime that unspools over the course of two hours, but what’s annoying about it is the way it employs the narrative voice – Maha (Anjali) as a ‘crime detective’ attached to the Seattle Police Department connects zero dots and learns nothing new about Anthony, or Sakshi, and the entire weight of solving the murder is shifted elsewhere. There’s an old Tamil joke about how cops arrive after everything’s been done and dusted, and, maybe, that holds good for Maha’s arc, as well. She is, in fact, called the ‘top investigative detective’ by the Captain (Richard Dickens, played by Michael Madsen), but she’s not given the opportunity to dig into any facts.

Michael Madsen in <i>Silence / Nishabdham.</i>
Michael Madsen in Silence / Nishabdham.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

With the sidelining of Maha during a major chunk of the third act, Hemant Madhukar is telling us that he has not yet realised the pleasure of taking the audience along with his characters on a trip.  That’s why the Tamil thriller Vellai Pookal (2019), starring Vivek in the lead, scores better. There, the cop traced the journey of the crumbs left by the killer and slowly put the pieces together. Plus, it was shot in the US and featured American actors. Here, the Americans behave like body doubles for Indians. All the dialogues uttered by the Captain feel like they were first written in Telugu and then translated into English. The emotions are, however, left untranslated and that makes the scenes come across as silly and jaded.

What’s the use of having two cops and not pulling them into the drama? Both of them almost watch the proceedings from the sidelines and yet manage to find a spot in the climax. If the knots get untied, in thrillers, in the form of dialogues and voiceovers, it’s the result of shoddy writing and the actors, by thumb rule, lose their chance to drive the plot. That happens throughout the film.

Moreover, the most interesting element happens to be about the different relationships that Sakshi shares with her confidantes – Sonali (Shalini Pandey) and Vivek (Subbaraju) – and they don’t get the spotlight they deserve. I’m not talking about their screen time exactly. This is actually about how their characters are shaped, as they don’t add great value to the output.

Individually speaking, Anushka, Madhavan, Subbaraju, Anjali, and Srinivas Avasarala (as Maha’s husband) are actors who have proved their worth in numerous films. If they get their hands on a terrific script, they are sure to mesmerise you, but, in Nishabdham, they’re in a pickle. And I’m going to sign off the review with this last bit of detail: writer-director Bharathiraja’s four-decade-old Tamil classic, Sigappu Rojakkal, which falls in the same category (the central idea of a man’s quest for vengeance because he’s been wronged by women) will still awe the new-age viewers for its directness and boldness and it’s a milestone that Hemant has missed by a long shot.

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