Despite being a film about a reporter, Noor gets neither the filmmaking nor the journalism right.
Sunhil Sippy’s second feature, Noor, starts and ends with a “quote by Budha”: “The trouble is, you think you have time.” The trouble is, this quote is not by Buddha. In less than a minute, anyone with a halfway-decent internet connection would find out that this line is from Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, which does have a lot of quotes by Buddha, but this isn’t one of them. It’s rather unfortunate that the makers of Noor, a coming-of-age drama about a journalist, don’t care about facts. But what’s even more unfortunate is that this factual inaccuracy isn’t the only annoying bit about the film.
The film’s heroine, 28-year-old Noor (Sonakshi Sinha), wants to make it big in journalism. But working as a junior correspondent in a news agency, Noor is only given frivolous stories to cover – such as an interview of Sunny Leone – when she’d like to expose government indifference and corporate wrongdoings. Noor has fallen on hard times, she’s quit cigarettes because they’re too expensive. She has a self-image problem; her weight is more than her Twitter followers. She has a love-hate relationship with alcohol, she’s frequently hungover. Noor, as you’d have understood, isn’t your regular confident heroine. It is a refreshing change – Hindi films’ leads could do with some amount of self-doubt – but Noor brings that on screen in the clumsiest way possible. So it’s not enough that we know, through a voiceover no less, that Noor is at a professional and personal crossroads, that she’s confused and clueless about her life. The film reinforces that, again and again, visually – she trips on carpets, vomits in the commode while nursing a hangover, lies on the bathroom floor, and says, “You’re a moron” to herself in the mirror. Oh, and she wears glasses, because what best conveys cynicism and social awkwardness in the warped alternate reality of Bollywood films? You’re right: a pair of glasses. It’s as if reality isn’t enough for Sippy, so he must dress it up, till the point it doesn’t look real at all.
The film, though, definitely strives for realism. It shows Noor using Facebook and WhatsApp, implying she isn’t different from the rest of us. And yet, her first online conversation with a guy (whom she’s just met once) is a video chat. (Really?) She tilts towards being an introvert and yet she’s the central dancer in a choreographed song in a nightclub. She wants to be a journalist, she barely understands the nuances of it, believing journalism is either “ground work and research” or “being at the right place at the right time”. While recording a video in her room, she says, quite bizarrely, “Beep you Mumbai for beeping me. Beep the politicians, filmstars, bureaucrats” – and so on. (All of a sudden, I had a bunch of questions. Why is she talking like this? Is Noor, by any chance, related to Pahlaj Nihalani? Is this film, among other things, a commentary on censorship? What other social commentary have I missed?)
Noor constantly tries to be cool. The Facebook and WhatsApp messages appear on screen, so do tweets and hashtags and thought bubbles. But it’s one thing to be cool, quite the other to be contrived. It’s difficult to warm up to Noor and her world, because she isn’t real and complex, rather she is an imagined type. As it turns out, Noor isn’t that different from Noor: both are confused, clueless and naïve.
But what’s really confounding is that Noor, a simple plot-driven affair, has no plot at all. Its central conflict is so flimsy – and ludicrous – that it will make you either laugh or cringe, depending on how much you care about journalism. It revolves around a tiff between Noor and her boss, Shekhar Das – an editor who cares less about journalism, more about TRPs – who accuses her of jeopardising her sources’ lives (that too on a story he wouldn’t have carried anyway). Which is perplexing, because, as shown in the film, Shekhar barely cares about extensively-reported pieces. So why would he lash out at Noor for not being moral? Noor becomes confusing and pointless a little too soon, a little too easily.
So, sure, Noor doesn’t get the filmmaking right. But what’s worse, it doesn’t get journalism, either. Consider this: Noor believes she’s exposed an organ-harvesting racquet based on the testimony of one source. Yes, one source, captured on camera, and boom, she’s done. She spends the weekend canoodling with her boyfriend. Several crucial scenes in the film indicate that Noor understands neither investigation nor journalism. Moreover, the film constantly deals in binaries. It believes that journalists shouldn’t favour stories over people – which is, of course, an ideal case, but any reporter would tell you that the reality is far more complex and nuanced. It implies that honesty, sincerity and idealism are enough to affect a change; that, in today’s times of remarkable indifference and cynicism, an impassioned video, posted on the internet, can stir a nation’s conscience. Noor makes quality journalism look like a walk in the park and, in the process, trivialises the very profession it’s trying to champion. Besides, the film’s littered with clichés – the kinds that should have been outmoded at least a decade ago. At one point, Noor’s friend tells her to “live in the moment”. (The next time a Bollywood character urges another to “live in the moment”, I’ll fling something sharp at the screen.) Noor asserts, like numerous Bollywood films, that professional success is hollow without the comfort of friends or family. It has a scene where a TV anchor interviewing Noor asks her several questions about her romantic relationship, but nearly nothing about her journalistic work.
And yet, Noor had some promise. Based on Saba Imtiaz’s novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Noor could have probed the conundrums of numerous urban 20-somethings: the challenges of being responsible, of forming meaningful relationships, of balancing idealism and pragmatism. But Noor can’t care less, for it has its eyes fixed somewhere else: in a make-believe world where important stories are broken in a day, where social change is affected by the click of a button. Towards the end of the film, Sinha’s character asks herself, “Who are you, Noor?” The same question can be asked of the film, too. And the answer, I’m afraid, would be quite straightforward: a really shoddy film with almost no redeeming elements.