62nd BFI London Film Festival: Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence Review

By 2020, Mumbai’s population is expected to grow to 28 million, making it the most populated city on Earth. With a population this size, it’s no wonder that Mumbai is one of the noisiest cities in the world; its noise pollution being three times worse than that of New York and London. Noise pollution is one of the leading causes of hearing loss worldwide. In India, over 48% of individuals over the age of 65 suffer from disabling hearing loss – compared to 11% in higher income countries. Not only is it incredibly damaging to hearing, but studies have also shown noise pollution can majorly impact stress levels and have a crushing effect on mental health. Sixty-five-year-old Chauffeur Namdev spends all day stuck in blaring Mumbai traffic to come home to his blabbering family and nagging wife who won’t give him a moment’s silence. Exhausted and in desperate need of some peace and quiet, he packs up his bags and decides to travel solo to the ‘Silent Valley’, an eerily quiet canyon up in the Himalayas, in hopes of finding some stillness. Of course, he struggles to find it as he is joined by the chirpy and youthful Aaliq on the way, who wants to divert Namdev to the magical ‘Red Castle’.

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Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence is a charming comedic drama, inspecting the absurdity and unappealing nature of modern city living. It indulges into one of the simplest needs humans often seem to overlook, tranquillity. Exploring how over-stimulation of the senses and overcrowding can leave one feeling lonelier than ever. It’s by no means a misanthropic film, and Dar Gai ensures to correct the protagonist’s grumpy anti-social perspective as his journey progresses. Highlighting the importance of companionship and adventure, it’s a sweet film. One that would play out wonderfully as an animation or silent short, especially when considering the film’s use of facial acting and physical comedy. Namdev and Aaliq’s friendship is heartening, at times a little predictable, but a strong addition nonetheless and ensures the tale stays true to its core theme that human connection should always come first.

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Sometimes the film did feel a little sleepy and ill-paced – although sequences either happen too early and too fast, or too slow and too late. It would have worked well to amp up some of the high and low points more and to spread them out more consistently throughout. This might have reduced the ‘floating’, aimless feeling Namdev Bhau obtains at times. It certainly has a twang of the contemporary indie-journey film with its laidback structure and how it tends to rely a lot on its quirky premise. Such a reliance on its impressive concept did mean certain segments felt a little empty and like the film was running out of fuel.

One of the scenes I enjoyed most was when Namdev confides to Aaliq as to why he stopped talking. He puts it down to that people would ask him so many questions but never care to listen to his answer, so ultimately, he decided it was better to stop speaking altogether. This puts a whole new spin on the grumpy old man trope and unveils a lonely character who is worn out by fast-paced city life, where everyone has little time for each other. It’s a thoughtful touch to the film.

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Overall, Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence has a great concept that teaches an important lesson on escaping the harsh realities of modern living, but lulls at times with what it’s trying to say. The film’s sweeping tone is graceful and sweet, propped up by a pastoral colour palette and a lovable bunch of characters. However, it dwindles with its consistency and would have done well to pack more punch to wake itself up from its sleepy daze.

Rating:3.5 stars

Written by Abi Aherne

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