Punny film titles are to die for. For starters, I do not remember the last time we had one for a Hindi feature film – let alone doing it right. A film about two warring individuals gets titled as War and one about an obsessive fan is called – wait for it –Fan. I would rather not go into the creativity behind coining something as bizarre as Grand Masti. That way, it is the title that caught me unawares whilst watching filmmaker Sandeep Mohan’s breezy new feature Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy. From what I assumed to be a solid treat for canine lovers, this highly engaging film has a lot more in store – including a tiny dose of literal ‘puppy’ love.
Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy centres around the lives of an anti-diabetic pill salesman, Nirmal Anand (Karanveer Khullar) and his Christian wife Sarah (Gillian Pinto). The couple and their daughter live a comfortable upper-middle life in Mumbai and are expecting their second baby soon. In the lack of any parental support, their family network is completed by their adorable dog, Parie. One thing leads to another, Nirmal gets diagnosed with diabetes – marking a mammoth irony which also ends up becoming a massive blow to his ego. To make things worse, Parie passes away, one fine day. The sum total of both incidents affects this closely bound family in ways more than one. However, what changes things around completely for the family is a film offer which comes Nirmal’s way in the most unexpected of ways.
Sandeep Mohan’s writing focuses strongly on the dynamics between Nirmal and Sarah. Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy underlines the complexities which lie hidden within the mundaneness of everyday life. Between them, it is Nirmal who is more of the ‘looker’, as the film admits itself. Yet, being the needier partner in the relationship, Nirmal’s insecurities are exposed early in the film. He is that parent who worries why his daughter is forever playing alongside a boy instead of other girls in the building. He does not let his archivist wife to take up a full-time vocation for reasons best explained by married men of her ilk. However, when it comes to making a gigantic career move himself, Nirmal does seek his wife’s approval even though somewhere we are doubtful how mindful he would have been if she were to strongly oppose the same. It is in this light (and under-explained) nuances that Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy rises from treading the run-of-the-mill shores.
The drift between the couple becomes all the more evident as Nirmal commences shooting for his debut film. Albeit her progressive ways, Sarah is unable to make sense of the little human complexes that exist within her. There is this telling instance where she checks herself out in front of the bathroom mirror, perhaps feeling a little inferior to her dashing husband. Nirmal, on the other hand, takes to a version of method acting and becomes a kaali-peeli taxi driver in his free hours. This side of the story, on papers, acts as a stumbling block since Nirmal is not shown to seek active wisdom from this choice of his. The sole exception is a brief encounter with a traffic cop (Prashen Kyawal) during which it is Sarah who steals the limelight, leaving Nirmal’s efforts in a limbo.
The film shooting scenes, staged solely indoors, are devised to be functional to the protagonists’ larger issues. Even the twists are designed in a way that we see them coming from a distance. There are angles (the liaison between the filmmaker and the lead actress, for instance) which we feel the writer had explored with better detailing or rather have avoided altogether.
Cast in a difficult part, Karanveer Khullar presents a decent account of himself. Expressive, even in the subtlest of situations, the actor’s screen presence and body language are impressive. Gillian Pinto is a delight as Sarah as she brings oodles of grace whilst expressing myriad emotions such as happiness, confusion and diffidence. The supporting cast passes muster even though I wish the makers had let go off certain Catholic stereotypes.
Evenly paced, Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy canvasses the monotony of Mumbai life without making the frames look dull. The DOP (Krish Makhija) does not go all out using flashy colours and the minimalism helps in amplifying the slowly developing dysfunctionality in the lead couple’s life. The original score and the signature number are functional (the latter is extremely melodious) in taking the narrative forward. The dialogues seeped in a delectable everyday-ness, are amongst the film’s key highlights.
Unlike everything else, I was fascinated by the way Mohan chooses to end his film. At no point did I expect Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy to show traits of a conventional cinema romance, which is exactly what it becomes in the final reel. Tastefully done, the filmmaker elevates the chemistry between his leads whilst offering a culmination which is real yet filmy in an unconventional manner. I almost imagined how the finale was a real-life version of a million dollar embrace in an Aditya Chopra film. You do not find a forced metaphor of a lush mustard field symbolizing romance. Instead, we meet a couple whose love for each other is wound on a solid foundation which bravely stands the test of adversities. If I must add, the only issue that I saw looming large all through was with regards to the prototypical puppy – Parie – who ends up as a (relatively) minor prop whereas ample scope existed to explore her part further in the premise. That complaint aside, Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy is a clean entertainer – minimalist in approach yet high on emotional quotient. In many ways, the film is a lexicon on making a serious relationship work in times of mere puppy love. Well, that’s a third angle to the film’s already existing title pun, I believe.