An artist with hearing and speech disabilities is the only witness to a gruesome killing, believed to have been executed by a supernatural force. But there's more to it than what meets the eye (well, obviously, or there wouldn't be a 2 hour film). We haven't seen much of the lovely Anushka Shetty since Baahubali: The Conclusion. There was only Bhaagamathie and a cameo in Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy in between. With her wavy hair framing her expressive face and dressed in trendy casuals, the actor is a picture of grace in Nishabdham. She does not have any dialogues but her arresting screen presence is enough for us to stay with her character, Sakshi.
Set entirely in the United States, Hemant Madhukar's Nishabdham, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is an attempt at a sophisticated thriller. I say 'attempt' because the film falters despite the performance of the cast and the promise of its premise. The good things first - the beginning draws you into the film. The creepy camera angles and the background score set up the basement of horror where a painting is supposed to be the source of malevolence. Our curiosity is piqued when Sakshi and her fiancé end up in this haunted house. We want to know what will happen to them and why.
The ideas must have sounded good on paper but the writing and execution, unfortunately, don't hold up. Anjali plays Maha, a cop who cannot stand the sight of blood and gets excited when she meets people from her hometown in India. We're introduced to her as she goes for a run, Jodie Foster style. But though she looks sharp and gets the body language right, it's difficult to buy Maha as an Indian-American police officer. The accent is off and the necessity to keep the language to Telugu for the sake of the audience leads to some awkwardly constructed scenes. For instance, Sakshi loses her father early and grows up in an American orphanage. Yet, she speaks fluent Telugu and needs two interpreters - one who knows sign language and another who can translate from Telugu to English - when she's being interrogated by Maha, though both of them know English!
Madhavan is dapper in his role of Antony Gonsalves, a half Goan-half Guntur cello player who is something of a celebrity musician. The plot revolves around the relationship between Sakshi and Antony, and the scenes are believable as long as we're watching their romance bloom slowly. However, as a police procedural, the film leaves much to be desired, with the writing falling back on tired cliches in Indian thrillers such as a random remark leading to a 'brainwave' in the detective. For instance, Maha doesn't even think of investigating her lone witness's background till her daughter's tantrum prompts a comment from a family member (who's conveniently a psychiatrist). One could still forgive this but the 'insight' is so obvious that all it does is to emphasise Maha's ineptitude.
There's a parallel investigation happening in the plot. But here too, the Seattle PD doesn't ever check CCTV footage, call records or try to make connections between the victims, forget about profiling or forensics. The problem is that while Nishabdham is set in contemporary times, it still falls back on old world clues like a missing button for the detective to crack a case. The lack of research leads to giant loopholes in the plot, making the motives of the characters rather flat. Without giving away too much, I also want to ask our filmmakers this: isn't it high time we stopped using lines like 'She wasn't that type of a woman' when we're speaking of victims of violence? As if there's a 'type of woman' who indeed deserves it.
Shalini Pandey is a surprise as the possessive Sonali. She's meant to be annoying yet likable. A tough ask, but Shalini pulls it off. Michael Madsen as police chief Richard Dickens deserved more to his character. With a limp and a swagger, he does his best with what he's given.
I couldn't help wondering if the film would have been way better if it had been set in India, making the characters more convincing. As it stands, however, Nishabdham falls short despite the big names in the cast.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.