In Anu Menon’s ‘Waiting’, the central characters don’t just wait. They wrestle with the sterile and stark reality of the clinical.

Review In Waiting Naseer and Kalki bring colour to the sterile white of the hospital
Features Entertainment Sunday, May 29, 2016 - 15:46

In a hospital in Kochi, Shiv, masterfully played by Nasseruddin Shah, purposefully waits for his comatose wife of 40 years (Suhasini Maniratnam) to wake up. Newlywed Tara, played by a bashful and persuasive Kalki Koechlin, rushes frantically from Mumbai to see her husband, severely injured in an accident. And there are no immediate answers. 

Shiv, makes the whole affair of waiting look stoic. Strength of character, patience, courage, is all one needs really, to cope with a loved one in a coma. Against the picturesque backwaters of Kochi, he plays out the survival drill for Tara, like at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Eat, sleep and bathe — never stop these three. But the dimly lit kitchen reveals his own shortcomings, stuffed in days of unopened tiffin boxes. 

In ‘Waiting’, the central characters don’t just wait. They wrestle with the sterile and stark reality of the clinical. 

Menon also toys with the generational gap. Tara, the millennial, litters the screen space with her f-words and her “shits” doled out with aplomb. And Shiv, the old man, is left to figure out if each f-word is positive or negative. Her boasts about Twitter followers and Facebook friends draws a confused blank. Is a happy marriage a 40-year-old one like Shiv’s? Or is it measured by the number of sweet nothings Tara exchanges with her husband in the recurrent flashback sequences? 

Menon veers dangerously close to stereotypes when her characters make these observations, but humour, in this case, is the best leveller. Some dialogues appear forced, particularly when Tara is throwing her tantrums. The silences that linger between the two could have been more pronounced, instead of trying to fill them in with clunky dialogue.

There’s a standout performance by Rajiv Rajendranath, Tara’s husband’s colleague. He’s that one helpful and caring person, who is however extremely tone-deaf and provides some unintentional hilarity to the grim situation.  Ratnabali Bhatacharjee also impresses as Tara's friend, whose recommendations of positive thinking are met with sneers. 

The most telling aspect however, is the deliverance of bad news. Rajat Kapoor, who plays the chief of Neurosciences, is the bad news prophet who trains young doctors to remove themselves emotionally from their patient’s grief. Physical and verbal cues to perfect the art of delivering bad news. How the doctor approaches this is a reminder of the words of Atul Gawande, the writer and Harvard-educated surgeon, "Doctors are trained to keep their patients alive as much as possible. But they are never taught how to prepare people to die."

Shiv and Tara are well-versed in this — and call the doctors out on their preemptive template. Shiv struggles with the constraints of biology and his dwindling finances — while Tara learns to ask for help and sheds her knee-jerk responses. 

In the chillingly white, bare walls of a hospital, where news of death is doled out by deadpan physicians, the two find in each other an unlikely companion with whom to share laughter and tears.