Friday, 25 March 2016

Serenity Now: Dil Dhadakne Do, Kapoor and Sons (since 1921) and the Role of Family in Bollywood

This seems to be the season for dysfunctional families in Bollywood. Off the top of my head, Piku, Dil Dhadakne Do, and now Kapoor and Sons are all recent movies revolving around a family with skeletons tumbling out of closets, mounds of lies building up and then crashing down again, relations being strained, love triangles forming out of nowhere, and a patriarch who seeks to keep the family together.
Family has always played a critical role in Bollywood, right from the days of Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Meena Kumari, when family was this unshakeable institution, with a clear hierarchical set-up, the children meekly obeying their ‘doodh-se-dhule’ parents and realizing that family knows best (especially when a tear-jerker of an ending is required, for families in Bollywood did tend to guide their children towards those). Fast forward to 2015-16, and family is no longer a plot point to bring wayward characters back from the brink through emotional blackmail, but a starting point from where characters realize that everyone has their flaws, leading to conflict, conflict and more conflict. And a little bit of resolution. Maybe.

Is this the sign of a new trend in Bollywood, bringing a sitcom-like setting (very Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, or Everybody Loves Raymond, from across the ocean, for the most part) to a movie and watching a plethora of stars trip over contrived situations that seem more out of a Woody Allen film than an Ekta Kapoor magnum opus? If it is, it’s a fun time to be watching Bollywood films, for the most part.

On to the films then.

Dil Dhadakne Do
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar, Anushka Sharma, Rahul Bose

“Agar Shah Jahan practical hota toh Taj Mahal kaun banata?”

Plot in a nutshell:
 A wealthy family sets sail on a cruise, organized by businessman Anil Kapoor. Watched by the family dog (perhaps the only really morally likable character in the whole film), their carefully cultivated image starts falling apart even as the ship sails through exotic locales.

And here we go:
 The serenity of the Mediterranean waters is in stark counterpoint to the family’s troubles as they bicker over first world problems such as selling their private jet, over business deals and marriages, over dalliances with nightclub singers and chauvinistic to-be-spouses. Secrets are exposed in full view of watching vultures of the high society kind (the worst kind, from what we see).

The elders of the families are shown to be stuck in a different era (of Bollywood as well), when business deals and relationships are mixed, chauvinism is in and unsolicited advice is generously given to everyone and their dog (quite literally, in this case). The youth are shown to have exuberance and a liberty in keeping with modern sensibilities, as they go about carving their own niche and rebel against the old order.

None of the above is taken seriously though. The film moves at a languid pace, in keeping with the calmness of the azure seas. Witty repartee (which isn’t often found in Bollywood) and engaging characters make for an interesting, light sitcom-like watch. It is a little long, and some sentimentality is thrown in for good measure in the middle- but, over the long (again, quite literally, at nearly 150 minutes) run, it’s a fun watch.

Kapoor and Sons (since 1921)  

Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Sidharth Malhotra, Ratna Pathak, Rajat Kapoor

“Mujhse nahi hota yeh happy family photo.”

Plot in a nutshell: Rishi Kapoor loves playacting his own death- until, one day, he collapses and is rushed to hospital. Since then his only major request is to have one family photo with all his children and grandchildren, all of whom seem to only be at war with each other as their lives entwine and cause mayhem, making a family photo appear a bridge too far.

And here we go: Just as the serenity of the Mediterranean is a counterpoint to the mayhem of the families in DDD, Coonoor’s hilly expanse forms a calm backdrop before which the Kapoor family bickers and battles with each other.

While DDD has the family elders and youth as the representatives of different mindsets and eras, here it seems to be the two halves of the movie that represent different eras of family in Bollywood. The first half is remarkably different from the second half, with the smoking-up, flirting and freedom of the first half replaced by a melodramatic soap-opera-like second half that drags. Nothing exemplifies this contrast as much as Rishi Kapoor, who is playful and amusing in the first half- playacting, shooting, cheating at cards and discovering the wonders of modern technology- but subdued and morose through most of the second half.

The big problem with Kapoor and Sons is that it starts to take itself seriously in the second half, changing the tone and content of the movie far too radically. It appears almost as if the writers lost confidence in their ability to engage the audience with a different story and screenplay, and revert to a far more predictable, sob-story of a melodrama so as to not offend the audience. I also did not find the characters as engaging as those in Dil Dhadakne Do- the Kapoors seem to be slightly less well-defined than their cruise-ship counterparts.

The verdict

The two movies are both alright as a one-time watch, but I enjoyed Dil Dhadakne Do far more. It had a lightness of touch that is not often found in Bollywood, and tried to take on a road not yet traversed much in Indian cinema.

Both the films have family playing a central role, as several key sub-plots involving the various family members lead to amusement that is more often found in sitcoms than on the silver screen. Like a good family, all the strands come together in the end though- or do they?

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