Looking back, it’s amazing what a fantasy Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hai Koun…! was. In today’s terms, it set a classic template for wedding-cum (no pun intended) –happiness porn. The movie put the toothpaste ads to shame, gave the beatific Arun Govil (of TV serial Ramayana) a complex, and set unrealistic expectations of life, marriage, and marital bliss. The family schmaltz, one suspects, pushed many an unsuspecting folk down the marriage aisle, only to discover that one cannot be singing songs while waiting for the maid to arrive, or having a tiff with the outlawed in-law, or cooking for the spouse’s friends whom the other half hates. Such pulled-down-to-earth folks, I hear, have renamed the said movie to Hum Aapke Hain Con. One of the primary reasons this movie became a blockbuster is because it pandered to the audience’s salivation of a Utopian family life. So what if one had murderous feelings about that specimen wearing the ring they chose? (The superb drama piece, Married Life, springs to mind immediately.) In the cinema hall, HAHK played out all that was wanting in real life.
Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921), is, thankfully, bereft of this syrupy tripe. Directed by Shakun Batra and written by Batra and Ayesha Devitre Dhillon, this enterprise is as fly-on-the-wall as they come, and that, for the audience in cinema halls, is a satisfying place to be in. Kapoor & Sons joins the honorable list of movies that bring the dysfunction in families to the dinner table, and proceed to serve up a fare that’s satiating and gratifying. It just might have you coming around for seconds too, if you dig such a menu.
Very quickly, niftily, and smoothly are you transported to tranquil Connoor, where Harsh Kapoor (Rajat Kapoor) is struggling with his finances, nagged on by his wife of 35 years, Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah), while his father of 90 years, Amarjeet Kapoor (Rishi Kapoor) is inventing innovative ways of kicking the bucket. A swift heart attack in the family brings Harsh’s sons flying to their parents’ abode. Elder son Rahul (Fawad Khan) is prim and proper in posh London, while the younger offspring, Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) is working a bar (the drinks variety, not the one in a gym) in New Jersey. Director Batra superbly kicks off the family dynamics from here on, throwing you bits and pieces of information and hints, as you begin to warm up to the wackiness and quirks of the Kapoor family. It’s not an easy thing to do, and to do it so well even more so, but Shakun Batra keeps the story parts moving, each part fluid and with its own sub-plot, but somehow, one way or the other, enmeshing all characters into a family tale where the only fairy seems to be Tia Malik (Alia Bhatt). Tia has her own story, and her involvement with the Kapoors is yet another layer of fun and depth in the story.
Kapoor & Sons is a gripping, humorous, and moving story, and Shakun Batra is its nimble-footed choreographer, leading family dynamics and situations to circle in a complex relationship dance of humor, drama, explosive anger, and frustration. And the best of all? It’s all real life. There’s nothing glossy that Batra does or create – and he beautifully interweaves an everyday situation to build a scene where he choreographs the first fight, the parents and the sons clawing at each other, so naturally, so superbly, even as they have a hapless plumber trying to fix a leak – that scene leaves you breathlessly smiling as the fight builds up to a crescendo, and then, just like that, Batra uses the plumber to break the tension and plug the leak – and that is so funny, the audience in my cinema hall was roaring with laughter and clapping . And then he pulls you back into the argument. That’s some brilliant direction.
As it is in the birthday party sequence, where again, the fun and frolic quickly turns from froth to boiling point, and the whole scene disintegrates into complete and seemingly irretrievable hopelessness. And here, yet again, the characters react humanely and uncontrollably to past wounds being split wide open, while you wait in semi-fear, agonizing about when the imminent disaster will strike. But the movie isn’t only about scenes of family fights stringed together. Director Batra also takes you into some intimate moments of family togetherness – the brothers sharing a cigarette; elder son Rahul and father Harsh at the breakfast table, the son crutching the father’s hopes; Harsh and wife Sunita in bed at night, wondering where things went wrong, even as they look at each other in the fond hope of another chance at life. There are some truly rollicking moments between the grandsons and grandfather Amarjeet, giving rise to possibly some truly rare and fun moments in a movie that take place in a hospital room.
Batra moves the movie swiftly, peeling off layers of past relationships, dark secrets, lies, and betrayal, and he does this not with the intent of making you gasp in surprise – he removes each layer to add another dimension to the characters and the story. And he does this with a breathless pace, aided by superb editing by Shivkumar V. Panicker, and lovely and lively cinematography by Jeffery F. Bierman. As is de rigueur, there’s a host of musicians (Amaal Mallik, Badshah, Arko, Tanishk Bagchi, Benny Dayal, Nucleya) coming up with songs that are not likely to remain with you any longer than your movie ticket. But Kar Gayi Chull is nice simply because you get to see Sidharth Malhotra and Alia make some adorable moves. The background score by Sameer Uddin is effective and pleasant, which is saying a lot these days.
Kapoor & Sons boasts of a strong cast, and they live up to their respective and respected reputations. As the father, Rajat Kapoor is his usual, natural self, not once overreaching or overreacting. His scenes with Ratna Pathak Shah are absolutely natural, wrapping the scenes with an element of married realism that’s comforting only because it’s familiar. Ratna Pathak Shah is also very au naturel, her eyes brimming with love and affection for her sons, especially her favorite one; her scenes of confrontation and despair are powerful, and a treat to watch.
As the perfect bachcha, Fawad Khan is eminently smooth and polished, very dignified and mature; and as his mask slowly comes off, revealing his past and present, his acting steps up beautifully, very elegantly. Sidharth Malhotra as the black sheep in the family is absolutely likeable and understated. His despair and desire to get acknowledgement and appreciation is heart wrenching, his act never slipping into self-pity or binge-bawling. And Alia Bhatt is the sparkling wine in this project – bubbly, vivacious, and high-spirited. Her timing as she jests with folks around her – be it the caretaker of her bungalow or the Kapoor brothers – is perfect. And when she reveals her past on her birthday, she quite simply becomes the heart breaker.
Rishi Kapoor as the family patriarch is irresistibly loveable – if you had a grandfather who you could share a drink with, as well as some borderline bawdy jokes (I did) – you’ll miss him suddenly after all these years (I did), realizing how some of our elders left packets of unfillable voids in our lives. Rishi Kapoor‘s is a marvelous act, leaving you with mirth and tears in quick succession, as he finally realizes his desire of having a family photo.
And this is where the families of HAHK and Kapoor & Sons differ – in the former, you look for what’s missing and what never can be; the latter holds up a mirror of nostalgia to you, as you look at similarities in your own life, making you take an unwanted yet irresistible walk down memory lane when the best laid out plans were consumed by family squabbles.
Kapoor & Sons is also a lesson in never taking things for granted, of being appreciative of the family you have. For, as in real life, as in the movie, when you look at the family photo in which everyone’s finally smiling, you’re the one in tears.
Watch the trailer of Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) here: