Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Rajat Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah, Alia Bhatt
Director: Shakun Batra
We’ve all dreamt a version of this dream: A house with a sloping red-brick roof in a hill station, its large grounds marked lazily by a picket fence. Seen from inside and outside, it sits blissfully at the horizon, where the green hill meets the blue sky, and where all our needs are met. The feelings this dream conjures up are the sort we’d like clicked, framed and mounted on the walls of the house. Glowing pictures of that leisurely breakfast around an overflowing dining table, that quiet, peaceful coffee-and-book evening, that crazy lunch when everyone came over, that family celebration which won’t end.
Director Shakun Batra, who has written Kapoor & Sons’ screenplay and dialogue with Ayesha Devitre Dhillon, takes us into exactly such a dream home in Coonoor — the house of daddy Harsh (Rajat Kapoor), mummy Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah), soon-to-be-98 Dadaji (Rishi Kapoor), dog Geshu, and their two grown-up sons “settled” abroad. But he takes us there to shatter all illusions about the perfect family. That thing doesn’t exist.
Dysfunction has been a great Indian family tradition since the time of Ramayan and Mahabharat. Only it’s hardly ever called out. We have too many weddings to plan, too many traditions to follow, too many functions to attend, too many boxes to tick, too many lies to live. The few times that it has been, straight-faced and without hesitation, have remained embedded in our psyche. Monsoon Wedding, Highway, even Piku, Vicky Donor, Wake Up Sid, and some bits in that phoney Dil Dhadakne Do.
And now comes Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921). It’s a story set in a house that’s teetering on the brink — seething with anger and resentment, yet busy with the daily chores of life, family meals, recipes, hospital visits. Like all dysfunctional families, this one too is always just one conversation away from reconciliation, closure and regaining balance, and always just one act, one move away from unravelling, tipping over and disintegrating into complete chaos. Here happiness lies locked in old, painful photo albums.
From the first scene itself, where around the dining table Sunita taunts Harsh about money, and he taunts her about everything, including her taunting, while Dadaji pretends to die, it’s clear that we are going to bask in the gory glory of a dysfunctional family.
And when Dadaji really does have a heart attack, and his two grandsons, Rahul (Fawad Khan), a successful writer in London who is struggling to write his next novel, and Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra), a bartender in New Jersey who is also writing a book, arrive after a brief glimpse of their own acrimonious relationship, the family begins to unravel.
Rahul returns home to find his room spick and span, as he had left it. His space in the house carefully, respectfully, lovingly preserved. Arjun’s room has been taken over completely by his mother, leaving hardly any trace of his existence, not even a memento to say we are waiting for you to return. Sunita has been sleeping there, she explains, because the doctor has advised her to sleep on a “hard gadda”.
Rahul, we learn, was always the perfect bachcha, and Arjun, well, mummy and daddy never really knew what he was up to. But, “hard gadda”. Let’s return to that. I really like Shakun Batra. I liked his first film, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012), and this one I like even more, because he and Dhillon have taken the smallest, silliest lies we say and hear, and pegged the story of the testy Kapoors on these.
No lumbering, excessively emotional buildup to a heavy and grand revelation-confrontation. There are several revelations and confrontations, but the frantic drama is built around seemingly mundane things said and done. Small things lead to livid outbursts, bitter arguments, with the past being dredged up as if it were just yesterday, all the while telling us a bit more — Rahul calls Arjun a chor and harbours a deep grudge, Sunita brings up the name Anu again and again, Harsh has a secret, but so does Sunita. And Arjun is just too scared to even mention his.
Soon it’s time for Dadaji’s 98th birthday, a big family event where he wants his last wish fulfilled — a happy photo. Around organising the birthday and the family portrait, with Dadaji in his wheelchair, the family comes undone. But not before sweet characters are introduced, some believable and one just, well, built around the emotion of the film’s one and only memorable song, Ladki beautiful kargi chull. That’s Tia (Alia Bhatt), an orphaned princess of sorts. Dadaji’s photo, when it’s finally taken, is as if it’s held together by a band-aid. You first see the fissures, the cracks, the patch-up job. But it’s a photo that’s real in more ways than one.
If, like me, you draw life’s lessons from films (I cut a sorry figure as I write this, of course), Kapoor & Sons says just one simple thing: Life is just too short. There may not be time to get answers to all the questions you’ve been harbouring. So, either just get up and ask, or learn to live the life you have now.
Kapoor & Sons says don’t look at old, happy photos longingly. Make new ones. Howsoever imperfect, at least they’ll be real. And it says this through a screenplay that’s very clever and modern. It places its characters in seemingly mundane scenes that lead to ugly, socially awkward fights.
The scenes and dialogue are deviously dark and funny — like the scene with the plumber, references to filmy characters recent and past — and the camera is like a dizzy guest, wanting to recoil in disgust, but unable to look away. My one grouse is that Gupta hasn’t got over his crush on gori-chitti Punjabi girls. Earlier Kareena Kapoor, and now Alia Bhatt. Though he gives his heroines a role in making the plot move, he just can’t get over how cute they are, turning them into not just unreal, but also slightly stupid. There is something called an overkill of cuteness, and that happens with the orphan in the big house with the Nepali help.
Apart from her’s all other characters are real and believable. Rishi Kapoor’s Dadaji is not just adorable but also significant. The randy, loquacious Dadaji who is always doing or saying something inappropriate, arrives not just to lighten the mood, but also to draw attention to how short life really is.
Ratna Pathak Shah is very good, but not a patch on Shefali Shah (Mrs Mehra in Dil Dhadakne...) at conveying seething innards. Rajat Kapoor, who used to drive me insane with his “haaan” at the end of every sentence, is an absolute delight to watch.
Fawad Khan is not from Bollywood and that’s the reason he is brave enough to play the character he does here. I can’t think of any leading light amongst our hunks who’d take this risk. Sidharth Malhotra is back in great form after a dud. He is brilliantly understated and though he has a tougher role than Fawad’s, and is less cuter than Mr Khan, he owns every single scene he is in, gently but firmly....