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Nil Battey Sannata  : A Mother’s Dream Sonata
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Friday, April 22, 2016
Ashwiny Iyer
Swara Bhaskar, Ratna Pathak Shah, Pankaj Tripathi

What in the world does the title mean? Swara Bhaskar as Chanda the maid or bai, has to explain to mistress Ratna Pathak Shah what Nil Battey Sannata means for the audience to understand that it stands for a good-for-nothing backbencher.   


Single parent Chanda is a bai with great aspirations for her daughter Apeksha or Appu. But the carefree schoolgirl and her friends aim for little more than a peon’s job or a chauffeur’s uniform. As Appu reiterates, like a doctor’s kid becomes a doctor, a bai’s daughter will only be a bai. So why bother with studies?


From Chanda’s reactions, you don’t need to be told in so many words that she herself was once bright enough to have wanted a better life until circumstances truncated her studies, leaving her a ninth standard pass. And she knows that Appu has it in her to go very far in life but couldn’t be bothered even aspiring for it.


Ratna Pathak talks Chanda into going back to school and completing her tenth standard. Principal Shrivastav is made to walk the talk when Ratna brings Chanda to school and demands that he puts into practice his daily mantra of ‘Jab jaago tab savera’. Director Ashwiny Iyer borrows the morning assembly scene from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Guddi with Appu rushing in late and Principal Shrivastav silently summoning her for punishment while the prayer goes on. Ashwiny also chooses to keep Shrivastav as a caricature with substance making the scene where Chanda seeks admission an amusing one.


It’s daughter Appu who’s obnoxious enough to rate a tight slap which she doesn’t get. To goad Appu into bettering her scores, Chanda the super mom does odd jobs and attends school and fetches better marks than her daughter. She even dogs a kindly disposed District Collector to learn what it takes to get a job like his.


All this doesn’t inspire Appu, it irks her. Until a moment of truth makes Appu do a volte face and the mother-daughter moments begin to work. The last line is the really aspirational one when a grownup Appu tells the Selection Board that she wanted to be a Collector because…she didn’t want to be a bai.


Swara Bhaskar carries the film as Chanda. Ratna Pathak is routinely good as her mistress. All the kids are well handled, Pankaj Tripathi as the Principal is efficiently comic and Sanjay Suri is at home as the suave Collector.


The husband and wife team of Nitesh Tiwari as storywriter and Ashwiny Iyer as director giftwrap a story of hope with positive characters and light comic touches while retaining the inherent seriousness of the subject.


This is not perfect cinema or a great screenplay but for its attempt to sell hope with a bit of wit and without getting melodramatic, the curiously titled Nil Battey Sannata gets a 3* rating.


Reviewed by
Bharathi S Pradhan

Senior Journalist & Author


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