There is a song called Gallan Goodiyaan in last year’s Dil Dhadakne Do, directed by Zoya Akhtar and it is one of the best things about the film that Akhtar claimed was about a dysfunctional bunch. The song is filmed as a single long take with some unbelievable coordination between the stars of the film and other supporting actors, as they dance their way in and out of the frame at a party on a cruise. It is also chaos. This chaos never translates to any of the scenes. I remember writing about Dil Dhadakne Do on this space here – ‘A story about a dysfunctional family is all fine. But The Mehras are simply not dysfunctional enough.’ Shakun Batra plays his card in with Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921), another story about a dysfunctional family, albeit a smaller one compared to what was in Dil Dhadakne Do. Both in terms of numbers and star value.
Batra brings the energy and chaos of the kind we see in Gallan Goodiyaan to the writing and direction in Kapoor & Sons. If the Mehras were drifting aimlessly in the sea, threatening to jump off the cruise at any moment, it is a wonder none of the Kapoors jumped off the cliffs of Nilgiris. They live in three continents and it is a concerted effort to bring them together, beginning with an international flight, a domestic one and then few hours on road (Apart from this, the Coonoor setting offers nothing). The pleasantries of a reunion don’t last long, with the mother, Sunita (Rathna Pathak Shah) reprimanding the younger son Arjun Kapoor (Siddharth Malhotra) for dirtying the house. A sign of things to come. Like for most mothers in most Indian families, the elder son is a treasure and the younger an also-ran even as everyone pretends not to notice this fact by cushioning it in public displays of affection and life goes on. But the Kapoors are like that thermometer you see in cartoons, breaking the glass and exploding all over the place. Batra and Ayesha DeVitre Dhillon’s writing is chatty and people talk over each other all the time. Just like family. Batra’s direction compliments this and everything here feels more organic and less staged. He brings about this order in chaos in three separate sequences – the first time they reach their tipping point, a loss of liquidity in the bank combines with a plumbing problem as both water and hatred engulfs the house, another during a post dinner jamming session and the third when every member has a skeleton forcibly robbed from their respective closets even as they are physically apart. This is not new. We saw this in Piku last year, a story about another group of not-so-lovable people choosing a more real maxim of it’s all about tolerating your family over Karan Johar’s (who is the producer here) aphorism – it’s all about loving your parents. That way, Kapoor & Sons is the anti-film compared to the family dramas we are accustomed to in Bollywood. Incidentally, the Kapoors resort to potty jokes to amuse themselves, something that was such a mainstay in Piku. It goes a long way in establishing what a humorless bunch they are and how they are really themselves only when not with each other.
Except for the eldest Kapoor, Amarjeet (Rishi Kapoor), who is the only one living without a facade. He is such an antique that he’s seen it all and none of the Kapoor antics surprises or shocks him. He coasts along as the only person with a funny bone in the house. And Rishi Kapoor plays it like the boisterous cool uncle desperate to pump life into a dull family party. His character is out of place but he doesn’t show it. He lacks all the cynicism we see in the rest. It’s a performance that calls you out from deep under the prosthetic. The other outsider with similar zest for life is the youngest – Alia Bhatt’s Tia. While the Kapoors can’t stand each other, Tia lacks the very driving force of that emotion – family. Words flow out of her endlessly without a care in the world. Tia and Amarjeet are the only two people in the film who speak and think the same. Everyone’s action is informed by the shades Batra provides for their character – from Harsh Kapoor’s (Rajat Kapoor) personal and financial issues to Rahul’s (Fawad Khan) life of lies to the under appreciated Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra). The refreshing part here is how not one of them is redeemable. And even with a non-performer like Malhotra, the ensemble’s performance works to a great extent, a case of whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
This is also not the first time Shakun Batra has made the anti-film. His debut Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu was as anti-romcom as they come. He routinely side-steps the usual tropes and it has worked for the second time now. Batra has a knack of dangling a mirror in front of you when you are not looking. His first film was a coming of age story disguised as romance. His second film too is a growing up story disguised as family drama – that of a heterogeneous group learning to live with each other, despite themselves.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)