Namdev Bhau is a simple man. He lives in the city of Mumbai with his wife, daughter and a mildly-delusional uncle and works as a chauffeur. At the age of 65, all he craves from life anymore is some peace and quiet – something that’s increasingly difficult to find within the cacophony of the bustling city he lives in. Such is the bedrock of writer-director Dar Gai’s second feature film Namdev Bhau: In Search Of Silence which chronicles one man’s relentless pursuit to escape as far away as possible from the maddening din of his urban hometown. Played by a real-life cab driver named Namdev Gurav (whom Dar discovered after being driven around the city by him), he is the kind of character that represents all of us more than we might imagine – after all, how many of us haven’t at least once dreamed of leaving the raucous city behind and losing ourselves within the serene silence of the mountains?
There’s subtle use of humor in almost every frame of Namdev Bhau, some of which is potent enough to leave you laughing out loud, as this film about self-discovery plays out more like a dark comedy than the typical road movie.
As the film begins with Namdev getting up from his bed one fine noisy morning, we see him promptly inserting earplugs to drown out his uncle singing to Goddess Kali in a drunken stupor. He’s also (un) fortunate enough to have a wife who talks constantly without pause, quite literally, and a very vocal daughter aspiring to get into politics who rehearses her speeches around the house. Even his job affords him little peace, as his employers constantly chatter inside the car as he drives them around.
In the midst of all the chaos and commotion, however, Namdev has quietly hatched out his plan to flee to the Himalayas in search for the elusive ‘Silent Valley’ – a place that he’s read about in a newspaper article where apparently sound circles at near zero-decibel levels. Driven to the brink of insanity by the constant clamor around him, the idea of Silent Valley naturally sounds like the promised land itself to our protagonist. And one fine day Namdev does set off, leaving his astounded family behind, on a solo expedition with his bag and the bare necessities. Thus begins Namdev’s quest for silence, in what turns out to be an enlightening journey of self-discovery that doesn’t always go the way he envisions.
On the road, he finds a companion he never asked for in the form of Aaliq (Aarya Dave) – a mischievous little 12-year old boy who’s the very antithesis of Namdev. Aaliq turns out to be a highly-imaginative and also highly-talkative chatterbox, much to the dismay of his newfound companion. He is convinced that he’s a special agent on a secret mission to some Red Castle where his parents are waiting for him and is determined to accompany Namdev on his journey to Silent Valley, despite Namdev trying his best to shake him off and travel in peace. However, this unlikely friendship soon starts to develop through ebbs and flows, as Aaliq’s boyish charm grows upon Namdev who slowly begins to realize that there might be more to Aaliq’s story than he lets on or is even aware of.
The resulting gradual shift in the dynamic between the two leads, which ultimately culminates in a tragic discovery, is guaranteed to surprise viewers as they realize that Namdev Bhau is more layered than one might initially expect.
Namdev Bhau is a markedly different film than Dar Gai’s previous directorial effort, the critically-acclaimed Teen Aur Aadha, a film with three tales narrated from the perspective of a house. For one, it is very briskly edited to accentuate Namdev’s variety of moods across his journey, in stark opposition to Teen Aur Aadha being shot in only three long takes. It is also shot almost entirely outdoors, in natural lighting and features some breathtakingly beautiful cinematography by Aditya Verma (of Manto fame) who fluidly combines wide shots of the mountainside with close-up reaction shots of the characters’ faces.
The screenplay is peppered with all the little ironies of life such as the boisterous Aaliq solemnly declaring that he loves silence as well, or poor Namdev constantly running into unforeseen sources of noise no matter where he goes. The playful charm running through the film is infectious and keeps you watching with a smile on your face. Aarya Dave, who like his co-star was also a non-professional actor till Dar discovered him playing football in the streets of Mumbai, provides a very endearing performance as Aaliq and shows pronounced improvement over his previous film Teen Aur Aadha.
The titular character Namdev Bhau himself is a very calm, quiet and good-natured man, who mostly communicates in silence. He prefers to not speak to the extent possible and gets his emotions across through grunts and gestures, presumably to not add to the already noisy environment he finds himself in. In fact, it is almost halfway into the film that we first hear Namdev utter even a single word. He exists (or at least tries to exist) within his own zone, minding his own business with minimal reaction to the world outside which constantly intrudes upon his thoughts.
Dar Gai’s decision to present this intriguing character and his plight through a light-hearted script works amazingly well. She effectively gets us into his headspace and despite extracting humor at the cost of Namdev’s series of misfortunes, it is ultimately a very visceral portrayal where we can feel his disappointment and frustration with the modern world down to our bones.
Andrea Guerra’s music is a soul-stirring companion to the sublime vistas of the Himalayas and the endearing camaraderie between the two leads and is likely to remain stuck in our heads long after the credits have rolled. The film concludes with Namdev finding himself trapped in the midst of yet another noisy situation for the umpteenth time – a traditional festive procession with people dancing and singing along the streets. But this time, instead of running away, Namdev gives in to the clamor and joyfully joins them in song and dance with the heartiest of smiles plastered to his face.
In the very final shot we come back to his home, where Namdev Bhau has returned as a visibly changed man – perhaps also with a changed perspective of life wherein he’s found the secret to peacefully live, even amongst all the noise and disturbance surrounding him. The free-spirited nature of the film and the universality of its emotions means that it should easily appeal to most people aged anywhere between 8 to 80 and is best watched at the cinemas, together with friends and family as a communal experience.
Oh and do watch out for the lady on stilts!
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When not watching films or TV series, Shaswata can usually be found either reviewing them or battling writer’s block. His obsession lies with framing and composition in cinema, something he explores by capturing the most memorable moments through screenshots and sharing them on social media.