Released in 2019, Vijay Jayapal’s psychological horror film “Nirvana Inn”, followed the slow mental decline of a caretaker named Jogiraj. A former boatman with a troubled past which has led him to flee his hometown, and try to start a new life at the titular Nirvana Inn. However, guests who resemble the dead connected to Jogi’s past begin to appear at the resort, resulting in a downward spiral in self doubt and fear for the quiet natured caretaker.
The film taps into many different aspects of the horror genre, playing off of superstition, paranormal, broken relationships to name a few. Furthermore the score constantly bombards the audience with a general unease, further heightened under the explorative cinematography of Jayanth Mathavan. The production embraces the best of modern day horror which relies heavily on atmosphere over shock value to create a constant sense of unease. However, one engrossing element of the experience of “Nirvana Inn” comes from a horror unseen, which lies in the caretaker’s struggle to comprehend the nightmare unfolding before him.
The main protagonist, expertly executed by veteran actor Adil Hussain, becomes the victim of a series of escalating events. However, to analyze the various interactions which slowly break him down, it is important to talk about his own background, both explained and speculative. Looking at concrete interpretation of character, it is obvious that Jogi’s withdrawn and closed demeanour stems primarily from past trauma, of which he takes full responsibility. However, within the calm reserve there are many other reasons to speculate on why Jogi approaches life and social interactions with timidity and reserve. Issues such as social standing, different background/upbringing and unfamiliarity, deepened by placing the protagonist in a location area that has its own history, superstitions and customs, all acted as probable causes to his distant personality.
The mix of established trauma and objective interpretations of character through a withdrawn personality creates a rather subdued example of the unreliable narrator. Consequently, further interactions are imbued with uncertainty, as legitimacy to what the protagonist is experiencing can’t be measured, particularly when there is self-doubt expressed towards the supernatural happenings. This narrative approach sets the groundwork for each consecutive interaction to build distrust in the viewer to take any interactions at face value.
The first indication of something being wrong comes from the appearance of guests and other workers at the Inn, which reflect ghosts from the caretaker’s secretive and troubled past. Consequently, the already unstable persona is confronted with the identity he was trying to escape, while being forced to confront it under his obligation to his boss and position to interact with the mysterious figures.
Of all the appearances, arguably the most disturbing interactions come from a family of four staying as guests. What would be normally considered difficult guests, in demanding the caretakers extra time and work for certain tasks, takes on a more devious tone when backed by an implied malicious intent through the way they communicate. This leads to the first major confrontation, where one of the children causes Jogi to fall when trying to fix a ceiling fan. However, the defining interaction with the odd family in building on the self doubt exuded by the protagonist materializes when Jogi decides to follow them after his near accident at their hands. The scene in question shows the family hiking through the woods with the caretaker looking on anxiously. He bears witness to the two kids fighting, in a slow and calculated manner that almost seems staged only to deepen his discomfort. Consequently the parents add to the theatrics of the tumble by watching on with uncaring expressions as the two kids strike at each other.
From the perspective of the audience, and by extension Jogi, the true nature of these entities becomes further muddled within this odd display of violence. The malicious nature, previously thought to be aimed solely towards the frightened protagonists, offers speculation that these figures may just be inherently malicious. Furthermore, under the impression that this act may have been performed without a spectator, brings into question whether the family is aware of the misfortune that fell them previously. The strength of this particular sequence lies in making the ‘monsters’ as unreliable as the protagonist in offering a grounded narrative or understanding of information being presented.
Before the conclusion, some sense of clarity is given in a mysterious figure that wears a mask that Jogi himself once wore. When the figure is finally confronted Jogi comes face to face with a distorted vision of himself. This vision appears more confident and presents itself as an alternative entity being forged through different actions or suppressed emotions. However, as much as this scene sheds some clarity on Jogi, Jayapal showcases his understanding to keep the audience in suspense by not revealing everything, with the double not entirely defining its reason to exist. Undeniably, this entity is realized through Jogi’s psyche, but whether it exists in resentment of his past or offers a more confident version in the man that he once was remains uncertain. Regardless of the reasoning behind the being, this confrontation further proves that the unreliable narrative and confusion as to one’s own identity exists to create a constant fear of self for Jogi.
In looking at “Nirvana Inn” and the scenes previously mentioned, it is important to note that they act more as a highlight to the strength of the production. Essentially, every scene feels like it has some weight and importance, and can be explored further to convey the constant state of dread and unease. There are many components to the story as well as atmospheric highlights that have the making to propel the production into a modern classic given time and further discussion.
The success of the production can perhaps be summarized in a famous quote by the most prominent purveyor of fantastic fiction in HP Lovecraft, which reads “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. This quote, which many may attribute to the cosmic beings that the author created, does contain a deeper meaning which is reflective in Nirvana Inn. Ultimately, fear of the unknown extends towards our own perceptions of what is happening to us in the moment, telling us that monsters are sometimes created in our own minds.
With this sentiment in mind, Jayapal’s film offers a deep dive into the terror of the monster we are looking at possibly being internal, born of our own actions. Consequently, this speaks towards the universal strength of film to create a narrative that transcends cultural and economic boundaries by tapping into that fundamental fear of the unknown. Often, when people boast of cinema’s ability to transcend boundaries it is often related to themes that relate compassion, love, friendship and other positive interactions. However, the more downplayed subject of what scares us acts as a way for many of us to close boundaries and establish empathy in the realization that our most primal fear is something that exists in us all.
“Nirvana Inn” is one of those films that drive certain fans/critics to celebrate the medium of horror with great conviction. Additionally, the film shows that in a global industry where horror is considered predominantly perfected in the west, fans should be openly looking to other countries who can also speak the language of fear. This sentiment is not just limited to this production, with Indian film having a rich history within the genre. However, Jaypal’s masterpiece of existential dread exists as a shining example of the strength of the horror genre in creating deeper empathy through defining our fears.
Bio for Adam J. Symchuk
Adam J. Symchuk is a film critic, based in Winnipeg,Canada. He specializes in Asian Cinema. He writes regularly in the Asian Movie Pulse.