DIRECTED BY SUDHISH KAMATH
STARRING: MANU NARAYAN, SEEMA RAHMANI with VASANTH SANTOSHAM and RAJA SEN
NOTE: This review is what you'd call 'awfully long' and is full of spoilers, which doesn't mean you shouldn't read it. It only means you're not to read it until you've watched the movie as well. If your idea of a review is one that would tell you whether or not to watch a movie, then this isn't one of those. This isn't a reference medium. It's my own opinion, and exactly that. A compilation of what I felt and what I thought I should've felt when watching the movie and after. Cheers.
Sudhish Kamath postulates eight phases of a romantic relationship, chronicling them in the expanse of an all-night telephone conversation in ‘Good Night, Good Morning’, his second directorial venture that he apparently co-wrote with Shilpa Ratnam, a woman much younger than both him and his characters. The film follows a linear narrative from ‘Night Before’ to ‘Morning After’ in a split-screen rendition in B&W intercut by flashbacks and fantasy sequences. ‘Before Sunrise’ is an inspiration and the characters discuss it. There are definitely no Woody Allen references in the movie, which, quite frankly, pretends to harbor neither the wit nor the cynicism of standard Allen caricatures. It’s actually borderline Crowe in Linklater-denial, exactly how Kamath describes it to be.
Turiya Omprakash (Manu Narayan) is a second-generation American part of a foursome headed back to Philadelphia from New York where they were out drinking on New Year’s eve. In the car, he calls a woman (Seema Rahmani) whom the four of them chanced upon a little while back, drinking by herself. She doesn’t respond at first, but calls back.
Her name, as we learn much later into the movie as a carefully-deliberated mystery, is Moira, a Greek Goddess of fate. Turiya himself is fished out of philosophical waters, referring to one of the four states of consciousness as mentioned in the Upanishads. “The other three are in the car with me,” he jokes at a point of time as Moira looks his name up on the internet. That joke, as it turns out, is not a joke. I’m defenceless against this sort of contextual naming. And not to mention, tired. There’s a character called JC (played by Raja Sen), abbreviated like in every Indian circle of friends of names too long and hard to pronounce. JC is along with a Hussain (Vasanth Santosham), again an Indian stereotype. But then JC has purpose. He’s the wizard equivalent, the one that makes things happen; who turns water to wine. JC, Kamath confessed, stands for ‘Jesus Christ.’ Exactly what I said in response.
Moira, when constantly pressured, asks Turiya to assume she’s called ‘Nona’, which is like Latin to an actual Greek. The moment had me miss the ‘Vijay’s and the ‘Priya’s, if not the entirely ambiguous ‘Guy’s and ‘Girl’s (as in ‘Once’). In the end, I had to be thankful such redundancies didn’t waste more than a minute of my time. Although I took the liberty to waste a couple of yours in the process.
Anyway, the two of them start with taking off clothes and discussing breasts in an obvious foreplay. Moira asks Turiya if he’d like a banana. He responds saying he prefers melons, where he gives an 8 on 10 to hers. Such cheek isn’t uncalled for. What is conversation if not a sharing of idiosyncrasies? I once ranked nipples with a girl for two hours, from Charlotte Gainsbourg through Julianne Moore down to Sasha Grey. There wasn’t a consensus, we didn’t turn each other on with the topic and it’s not the best that I remember of her. It still qualified.
But then ‘Good Night, Good Morning’ overstays its sitcom-phase. We’ve a half of the movie spent on gags and nonsensical nothings, with the other half speeding up the sink into deeper waters. It’s not a disconnect that I’m talking about. It’s a stretch. Like a joke on both Michael Jackson as well as Justin Bieber in a sort of diversity move to bridge the 90s with the new century. It doesn’t work.
What lifts the movie is the moment it asks to be taken seriously. The second call-back; the ‘Make-up’ in Kamath’s own words. The time when both Moira and Turiya both drop their armour down; when Moira gets into her bathrobe and feigns nakedness. She’s past an attempt to kill herself, we learn from a standout sequence with ‘Silent Night’ playing in the background. He, on the other hand, still isn’t over the woman who left him three years ago. His suffering isn’t unreasonable, definitely, but hers is more pitiful. He’s the ‘virgin Indian boy’ against her ‘the Girl who’s had enough sex before that it doesn’t matter anymore’ stereotype. He hesitates, she groans. To him, it’s a beginning, with all its doubts. To her, it’s yet another tiresome journey. Through the same thing all over again.
The fact that Moira is even remotely interested in one like Turiya, whose sensibility doesn’t get past ‘the Matrix’ and ‘Mills and Boon’ and other ominous signs of the average Indian male says but two things. One - we’re watching a man’s fantasy. For all you know, there could be an ‘Inception’ moment with Turiya waking up in the end and having to spin a totem to check. She calls back, she calls again, she confesses, she calls the shots as he watches and comments. With her, Kamath says he intended to break convention about the perception of women in India or Indian cinema, at least. This being said about a movie he conveniently sets in New York with people who we relate to because Hollywood exists.
Secondly, Moira and Turiya suffer from the same flaw that they discuss at one stage of the movie. They don’t want the same thing. Not exactly. Moira wants solace, Turiya wants love (or so he thinks). To her, he’s a doormat; the safety-catch. And someone who’d love being so. In ‘Before Sunrise’, we worried about Jesse and Celine losing passion by forcing to stay physically connected. Here, it’s a redundancy – the tip of an iceberg with a promise for more. But the tip is off the parent, broken and floating. Turiya is a limitation that Moira, with her unboundedness, would outlast. It’s a disarming sort of certainty.
Her final decision, to Turiya, is a dream, given that he had already taken his shot at giving her up. For Moira, on the other hand, it’s a ticket to a rehab routine that would have her coming off stronger and cleaner in the end. He would’ve resuscitated her, nursed her back to health. She, on her part, would give him an experience to remember, in bed and out. They’d break as better people.
Of course, I’m extrapolating on the actual script which despairs to end with hope – a reflection of the very same creative liberty that I take to criticize it as well. It is a work of fiction that’s as open to the viewer as it was to the one who came up with it. Kamath has schoolboy aspirations with his concept, where he wants to ‘succeed’ in his romance no matter what. Even if ‘success’ meant taking the first step towards a sure-shot downfall. I’m not referring to the Allen-assertion that all love fades. I’m saying that this one will, one hundred percent. It’s about a woman who decides in the end to go with the flow, and a man who’d always try to wing it to his favour. It makes for a sad story, where the touch of optimism is but actual false hope.
This, ideally, is what one expects a co-writer to rectify, more so because it’s a woman. Or is she? In Turiya and Moira, I see an action-reaction pair, of a person talking to oneself. They’re like alter-egos, like they’re parts of the same schizophrenic whole. Like Eugene and Miriam from Winterbottom’s ‘Butterfly Kiss.’ The parasite and the willing host. It still is ‘love’, I don’t deny it. But between whom? It’s Kamath courting Kamath, as far as I can see, sticking to movie-standards to beat his folly.
A collage of tributes too many, ‘Good Night, Good Morning’ is pretty much the Critic’s movie, even if technically sound and runs like a racehorse. Elegant and carefully put together with a majestic music score, it’s a roller-coaster ride with no time to think twice. But then, it disappoints in that it fails to even make an effort at honesty. It’s an elaborate gimmick and is content to be so, riding on the fact that everyone, at one point or another, would’ve known a girl like Moira – too wise, too damaged, too out-of-reach. The film is beautiful because she is; ugly because it’s too much so. She is lent a hand to get her out of the water, he has volunteered to replace her at the bottom. And Kamath, only too gloriously, cashes in on this misshapen connection.
Linklater wrote ‘Before Sunrise’ with Kim Krizan, with ‘Before Sunset’ getting its lines from its lead pair in Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I see this co-writing venture between Kamath and Rathnam as a move to touch upon that nostalgia, if not emulate the same. I cannot rationalize Ms. Rathnam’s involvement in any other way. It’s like if Kamath had a wife, she’d have done the music score, playing Nancy Wilson to his Crowe-desperation. At least, he’d have had her credited for it.
But I still do not dismiss this movie. It’s a nice watch, it has its moments. And I, for one, have seen a Moira before. Like I’ve seen a Summer Finn or even an Alyssa Jones. But then this movie is like I dreamt about getting her and then came forward, calling it real because I can recollect it and put it in bullet-points. That’s what Kamath has done. He’s put a fool's dream before a world that won’t disagree. It's silly, it's trivial, it's good to watch. And he likes it, like a writer likes his work. I wish him luck.