When families such as this one surface in films, the norm is to label them “dysfunctional”. If, however, we confront the harsh – yet oddly consoling – reality that everyone’s parivaar is as flawed as our own, we might face up to a truth most societies seem to want to ignore. The truth that even regular families are like the Kapoors of this tale – a bloody, wretched mess, filling up an album of a lifetime with break-ups and patch-ups, misunderstandings, regrets and joyfulness, laughter and tears.
Producer Karan Johar’s Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) stars Rishi Kapoor as the patriarch of a clan that includes his constantly squabbling son and daughter-in-law, Harsh and Sunita (played by Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah), grandsons Rahul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra). Rahul is a bestselling novelist based in London while his younger sibling Arjun is a part-time bartender and struggling writer in New Jersey. Summoned back to the family home in Coonoor when their Daadu falls ill, the boys are compelled to confront the buried secrets that have kept them apart for so many years.
Destiny is often merciless. While in Coonoor, they meet a local estate owner called Tia Malik (Alia Bhatt) whose easygoing appeal, impetuous nature and romantic inclinations threaten to further widen the rift between the brothers.
When so many distractingly good-looking, talented and charismatic people occupy the same frame, it takes one helluva of a story told by one helluva storytelling team to keep the focus on the soul of a film without self-consciously downplaying anyone’s looks, talent or charm. It is the good fortune of all those involved – including us, the viewers – that this project is helmed by one helluva team. Director Shakun Batra has co-written Kapoor & Sons with Ayesha Devitre Dhillon. The two had earlier hooked up for one of the best Bollywood rom coms of the past decade (also produced by KJo), the unfortunately underrated Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) starring Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan.
The writing and direction of this film are so seamless – aided in no small part by Shivkumar V. Panicker’s editing – that it feels like an unscripted reality TV show set in the Kapoor home. Sure, if you count all the twists and turns, it might seem melodramatic, but the truth is that it is no more dramatic than your life or mine would be if it were to be compressed into a film of 2 hours and 20 minutes.
The conversations flow smoothly and believably, barring one exchange involving a very large bra when Arjun and Tia are virtual strangers. This somewhat harks back to the casual manner in which Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu showed a desi heroine’s parents quizzing her about PMS and her sex life. This conversation like that one seems to emerge from an imagined coolth that you would be hard pressed to find in India, though the rationale is perhaps that Tia is a Mumbai girl in Coonoor. Doesn’t work. A later chat on the same subject does, because they are better acquainted with each other by then.
Again, while Tia’s choice of teeny attire is credible, what is not is the fact that her wardrobe raises not a single eyebrow in this small hill station in Tamil Nadu. These are niggling quarrels though with an otherwise wonderful film.
The cast is uniformly, unequivocally good, with all the artistes distinguishing themselves in some way. In fact, Kapoor & Sons is the sort of ensemble film you rarely find in Bollywood, where each of the six central characters gets equitable treatment, without the spotlight falling conventionally on just two leads.
Sidharth in particular rises above and beyond that perfect face to effortlessly take us through the gamut of Arjun’s emotions – pain, confusion, hesitant stabs at happiness, insecurity, love and loyalty to a family he might possibly be hating. With this film he truly and completely arrives as an actor.
Rishi Kapoor is hampered by the heavy makeup used to make him look 90 years old. Parts of his face seem immobile as a result. It is to the veteran’s credit that he still does full justice to the humour that the script has invested in his character. Daadu’s scenes with Rahul and Arjun are the most amusing portions of this film.
Coonoor is a spectacular location and cinematographer Jeffery F. Bierman exercises immense control on his camera to ensure that we get the full blast of its beauty without taking away anything from the intimate nature of the storytelling here. His lens seems to know just when to close in on a face and just when to look away.
This brings up another interesting aspect of Kapoor & Sons: it features all sorts of communities, yet stereotypes no one. When was the last time a Hindi film was set in Tamil Nadu? How often in history has Bollywood visited south India without drowning us in caricaturish, oily-haired ‘Madrasis’ with sing-song accents and a vocabulary dominated by “aiyyaiyo”? Just as much of a relief is the portrayal of the Punjabis at the centre of the action – without a whisper or a whiff of a “balle balle’’or a Bhangra.
Equally noteworthy is the use of music in this film. The songs are pretty, contextually relevant and unobtrusive at all times. Bolna maahi bolna, especially, is an impeccable fit.
Kapoor & Sons is hilarious, heartwarming and heartbreaking rolled in one. It does not wear its social conscience on its sleeve, but make no mistake about this: it has one. This is a disarmingly entertaining, thoughtful film that evokes a fuzzy feeling of warmth. It left me with wet cheeks, a smile on my face and a chuckle welling up in my throat at the memory of Daadu.
It is only March and Bollywood has already made 2016 look good. Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) gives tough competition to Ram Madhvani’s Sonam Kapoor-starrer Neerja for the tag of the best Hindi film of the year so far.