These are just a few adjectives that one can begin to describe Kapoor & Sons, but this film is so much more, and truth be told I’m at a loss of words on where to begin. Rarely have I walked into a Bollywood film, especially those with queer characters, and walked out with sense of overpowering emotion engulfing me. Kapoor and Sons, I can finally say, is one such film.
Kapoors, an out, loud, and proud Punjabi family are settled in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. Far removed from not only those very Punjabi abodes of Delhi, London, and Vancouver, they are also equidistant from the likes of Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! and Hum Saath Saath Hain. A less than perfect family their issues are filled to the brim. A cheating husband, a marriage on the rocks, an ostensibly perfect son and his loser brother, all held together–perhaps, like Fevicol–by an aging and death-obsessed dadu, played by Rishi Kapoor.
In tinseltown’s reality, we are given a generous dose of happy families, joint all the way from the bahu’s banarasi ghoonghat to the the sasurji’s izzat-retaining pagadee, somewhere in-between we have a villainizing sauten (read sauken for my Pakistani friends) or a dastardly samdhee, all conniving and plotting the ultimate demise of the traditional Indian family. Imagine Prem Chopra, Pran, and Bindu, or for the young ‘uns, Shakti Kapoor and Gulshan Grover! Notwithstanding the BJP wet dream that these films were, they usually left a cringe-worthy expression on us less than perfect mortals. Enter Kapoor & Sons, albeit with a few too many Punjabi stereotypes, but nonetheless as a breath of fresh air, in an otherwise choked cinematic atmosphere.
Now, much has been written about the dysfunctional Kapoors, and for all intents and purposes, they are indeed dysfunctional. Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and Sunita (Ratna Pathak-Shah) are constantly at loggerheads with each other, perhaps, even at each others’ throats. If not arguing over family expenses, there’s the sultry sauten in Anu who takes up considerable space in their fist-fights (and believe me I have yet to see caramel cookies being put to such good use!). As if the parents weren’t hell-bent on self-destruction, the Kapoor siblings, Rahul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) are the shikar of perpetual rivalries, be it career or ladki. All in all there’s a few too many secrets that (for our viewing pleasure) just have to boil over.
Yet, it isn’t the bickering, the lies, the deceit, or even dadu’s tharki antics (side note: give it a rest, it’s getting tired), which left me emotional. It was, I confess, the climax with its various jump cuts and quick, uneasy, and jilted shots, which left a profound mark. Granted much of what we learn in the climax is hinted at throughout the film, such as the scene with Rahul talking to Nick about an artists’ retreat and when asked who Nick happens to be, he quickly says his girlfriend, or the moment when Anu comes to dadu’s birthday party, and Sunita loses it, or yet still, the moment Tia (Alia Bhatt) confesses to Arjun that she kissed (at least tried to!) Rahul. Like a pot brimming to the hilt the climax gives us revelation, guilt, and maybe even realization.
Again, it wasn’t the secrets and their ultimate disclosure that are the soul of this movie rather it is the sensitive, mature, and nuanced portrayal of human relationships. For me, personally, it was Rahul and Sunita’s journey that is the true success of Shakun Batra’s story-telling. When Sunita happens to discover the truth about her “perfect” beta, as she innocently looks through his laptop; Rahul, simultaneously, uncovers the doomed state of his parents’ marriage, catching dad redhanded with Aunty Anu! What follows is not a cheap, sleazy plot of revenge nor is it a heightened melodramatic confession, the bitter truth hits home like it would any of us. That Rahul concedes he lied, and that he can apologize for his lies, but he can’t apologize for who he is, in a frank, face-to-face, heated argument with his mother, the one person in the world who he cannot hurt or lie to, was very well done.
The thing with revelation, though, is that it always comes with its own outcomes. For the Kapoors, the moment they begin to grapple with the truth, of Rahul’s sexuality, of Harsh’s betrayal, of Sunita’s favouritism, and Arjun’s lack of self-worth, they are thrust head first into a land of no closure. This again harks back to reality, we don’t always get our one last moment, we don’t always get the benefit of forgiveness, oftentimes we are left with more questions than answers, and it is here that this film succeeds. It manages to give the characters some sense of reconciliation without taking shortcuts toward that final outcome, there is hurt, there is suffering, and there is pain, all of which we as an audience can relate to.
The sensitive nature of the story, especially in the second half is coupled with excellent performances from all the cast. Alia Bhatt brings a youthful verve, much in keeping with her character, as does the mutual chemistry between her and Sidharth Malhotra. Fawad Khan steals the show as a guilt-ridden elder brother. Equally compelling are Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak-Shah. The scripting of the characters is just as consistent as the acting. Take for instance, Rahul, a middle-aged gay man based in London who cannot drive or the scene between the brothers where one teaches the other how to drive, all based in reality. On the subject of gay men, thank you Shakun Batra for finally convincing Karan Johar to portray a strong and sensitive gay man, and not a caricatures they tend to become in his films, such as Dostana (for an excellent piece on cliches head to Youth ki Awaz). A shoutout to Fawad Khan for taking on a role that many established actors at the height of their stardom would refuse to take, and moreover doing justice to it. Thank you, Mr. Khan, for showing the world that gay people go through the same shit, maybe even more, as everyone else (case in point “perfect beta“)! All this is finely woven into cinematic silk by Jeffery Bierman’s excellent cinematography. I loved how the house looked lived in and that the setting, Coonoor, was appropriated into the story-telling (it could have been better, but it’s a start).
Kapoor & Sons reminds me of many a Christmas movie, such as The Family Stone, where family antics usually reach a boiling point resulting in a tragedy. A tragedy that leads the family to face the consequences of their actions and chart the route ahead. Here, Rishi Kapoor, as a ninety-year old grandfather, brings the Kapoors back together, threatening as always to die. No, dadu, we don’t want you dying just yet. A tear-jerker, especially, the second half, Kapoor & Sons is a good start to the year after films like Neerja and Aligarh. I highly recommend a watch or two!
RB’s Snap-o-Meter: 4.5 snaps out of 5
RB (Tweet me!)