WAITING

Anyone who’s spent substantial time in a hospital, caring for a parent, a friend, or a relative that’s sick, will tell you that the hours go by slowly in a waiting room. How many times in a day can you visit the cafeteria, how many times can you go over the same newspaper? Beyond one’s sorrow for the patient’s condition, and a fear of the worst, what one tends to be consumed by, sitting there killing time waiting for a doctor to show up or the relative to recuperate, is a feeling of sheer tedium. 

Which is why it isn’t hard to be invested in the central conceit of Waiting, director Anu Menon’s film about two people who meet and form a connection – despite their yawning age difference – while biding time in the sterile confines of a hospital.

Newly married Tara (Kalki Koechlin) rushes to Kochi after her husband (Arjun Mathur) is injured in a life-threatening accident during a work trip. As he lies in a coma, hovering between life and death, Tara is overcome with sadness and prone to panic. Here she meets Shiv (Naseeruddin Shah), a retired professor, who can sympathize with her situation, as his own wife (Suhasini Maniratnam) has been in a coma for the last eight months.

Shiv, who is mild-mannered, composed, and selfless in his commitment to his unresponsive wife, couldn’t be more different from Tara, who comes off as abrasive, entitled, and flighty. Yet they’re connected in their grief, and Shiv helps Tara work through her emotions. In a charming scene that makes a pointed comment on the generational contrast between them, Tara rambles on about being alone at a time like this despite having thousands of followers on Twitter. ”What’s Twitter?” asks Shiv, genuinely puzzled.

It’s a promising premise, and the friendship between Tara and Shiv yields some nice moments. There were times the film reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Lost in Translation, about a young woman and a much older man who are united by a similar feeling of disconnection in a strange country and a new time zone. But the truth is that Menon’s script quickly runs out of ideas and goes around in circles. It’s also a little too talky – you yearn for them to just shut up and soak in the silence. Each time they do, the film soars.

It’s not hard to see the point Menon wants to make – that hanging out and spending time together allows Tara and Shiv to evade the reality of their situations and to ponder the difficult question of what will come of their own lives if their spouses don’t wake up. It’s a question Shiv has been blanking out of his mind for a while now, even as his wife’s doctor (Rajat Kapoor) urges him to think of what she’d have wanted.

Yet Waiting feels longer than its roughly 90 minutes running time. Good thing we’re in the hands of such exceptional actors, you’re willing to stay with them even when the script stops being interesting. Naseer brings a whole lifetime of experience to his performance. He’s real, and in-the-moment, and doesn’t miss a beat. Your heart goes out to this man who’s unable to pull the plug on the companion he’s spent the best years of his life with.

Kalki, meanwhile, succeeds in endearing you to Tara despite her brash nature. Aside from a few clunky bits – which has more to do with the uneven shifting between English and Hindi – she gets the part just right, and makes the character’s journey in the film entirely credible.

Despite its problems – and there are a few – Waiting is well worth your time. It sags post intermission, and the plotting is weak. But it raises important questions about life, love, and letting go. Plus there are those two splendid performances. That’s plenty to merit a viewing. I’m going with three out of five.

 

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