Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi movie review: Seema Pahwa's directorial debut fails to rise above theatrics
Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi had its world premiere at the Jio MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival in 2019 and has released in theatres on 1 Jan, 2021.
castSupriya Pathak, Konkona Sensharma, Vikrant Massey, Manoj Pahwa, Vinay Pathak, Parambrata Chatterjee
The unfortunate side-effect Seema Pahwa's directorial debut Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi suffers from is that it premiered (at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2019) days after Shonali Bose's family drama The Sky Is Pink. The common thread between both the films is death, and the impact it has on the caregiver.
While the latter managed to create a conflict by introducing two contrasting ways of dealing with the death of a close one (daughter in this case), the former fails to sustain interest in its narrative. It only leaves the central character of Supriya Pathak, after the death of her husband (Seema's mentor Naseeruddin Shah in a special appearance), encounter a Baghban-like realisation that her sons and daughters-in-law only pretend to be emotionally connected to the ageing parents.
When Ram Prasad (Shah) passes away via cardiac arrest, his four sons, along with their wives and children visit the ancestral place to grieve with his wife. As it happens in small-town Indian households, the funeral takes place on the second day of death but the prayer meets are extended to a prolonged 13-day period, a tad too long for all the family members who chose to lead their individual lives in other cities, away from their parents.
The tone of the film is never able to deep dive into either drama ( like Kapoor & Sons and The Sky Is Pink, and even Baghban for that matter) or comedy (which is a pity since Seema is remarkable at comedy). Since the tone oscillates between the two, it appears confused even after the film has found its footing in terms of the plot. While doses of comedy and drama are there in flashes, they eventually crop up as inherent pieces of a broken narrative.
The only character one roots for is that of Supriya. But since this is an ensemble film, other characters (members of her family) eat into her screen time. It is a travesty since she is immensely watchable as an actress, who appears too less for the sheer magnitude of caliber she possesses. Watch out for a scene where she is the pivot to her family's red-handed mischief at a time when they are supposed to be grieving the patriarch's loss. It saddens her, as she confesses later in the film, but the feeling is made very evident by her loquacious expressions much early on.
While there is a host of talented powerhouses like Seema's husband Manoj Pahwa, Vinay Pathak, Parambrata Chatterjee, Konkona Sensharma, and Vikrant Massey but only the last two stand out because of the shades lent to their characters. Some of the exchanges between the daughters-in-law are well-written but one needed more memorable and affecting characters like those of Supriya or Konkona. In fact, the equation shared by the two great actresses is never explored much, and is relegated to the sidelines in a drama that could have been about much more than the internal clashes of a family. There is no nuance to Seema's portrayal of family politics. Those that have lived in small towns for a large part of their lives will have better stories to tell.
Technically also, the film fails to be an immersive experience. This is possibly because of the vast body of work Seema still boasts of in theatre. Having worked extensively in Naseerddin and Ratna Pathak Shah's theatre group Motley Productions, and now training students for stage on a daily basis, Seema's treatment of the film suffers from a looming theatre hangover. More than the pitch of the dialogues, the lack of liberty a debut director should take with a 3-D medium like film reflects in Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi. The cinematography (by Sudip Sengupta) starts on a great note, when the camera, like a spirit or the Yamraj, stealthily making its way into Ram Prasad's house against the background score of a piano.
The piano, or music in general, has been used as an effective symbolic tool here. Ram Prasad insists, in the opening minutes of the film, one must fix the faulty note of a musical instrument because it leads to a hurdle in real life as well. While the immediate consequences would give the impression the hurdle is the death of Ram Prasad, the climax reveals it was something else for which the death was an imperative tool. It is a fairly optimistic lens to view death through, but it needed to have reverberations throughout the narrative in order to make the end result more profound and designed.
The editing (Dipika Kalra) is as generic and formulaic as cinematography in most part of the film. Other aesthetic elements, like the background score (Sagar Desai), the production design (Parijat Poddar), and the costume design (Darshan Jalan and Manish Tiwari) are also more from the zone of theatre. They all add to the texture of the film but do not even remotely push the envelope as far as filmmaking is concerned.
Maybe Seema should have taken a cue from her actor Konkona, who made an extremely assured and immersive directorial debut in A Death In The Gunj in 2016. To treat a film like a play, despite all the good intentions and conditioning, comes across as a disservice to both the mediums.
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