Gotro movie review: Shiboprosad Mukherjee, Nandita Roy’s latest film is shallow and overly preachy
Gotro is less an attempt at education, and more a desire to ride a powerful idea just for the sake of doing so.
castAnashua Majumdar, Nigel Akkara, Ambarish Bhattacharya, Saheb Chatterjee, Manali Dey, Anashua Majumdar
directorShiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
In Bruce Beresford’s 1989 Oscar-winning adaptation of Alfred Uhry’s play Driving Miss Daisy, there is a scene in which Daisy Werthan – an affluent, retired Jewish schoolteacher – is extremely upset about the fact that her anxious son has hired a happy-go-lucky southerner African-American chauffeur to drive her around, for she simply cannot stand the man. As Miss Daisy’s long-time maid finishes her day’s chores and says "I’m going, Miss Daisy." She replies from upstairs: ‘Alright Idella, see you tomorrow’. Immediately after this, when Hoke, Miss Daisy’s newly appointed chauffeur, says: "I’m going too, Miss Daisy", the response from upstairs is a curt and monosyllabic ‘Good!’
Fifteen minutes into Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s latest Bengali film Gotro (The Clan), I was reminded of this scene, and ever since then, I noticed more similarities than differences between the two films. Now, I must clarify here that I do not mind one film being inspired by another. Some of the greatest artists in the history of the world – starting from Shakespeare to Tarantino – have been inspired by the works of other artists. What I do mind is if a film, by itself, cannot stand its ground. That is exactly the problem with Gotro – despite being inspired by a brilliant premise, it is a very shallow, preachy and superficial affair that will probably leave its audience none the wiser.
A fiercely independent old lady by the name of Mukti Debi lives all by herself in Kolkata. Her only son lives in Houston, but arrives in the city when he learns that a burglar had tried to break into his mother’s house. Worried about his mother’s safety, he consults his friend, who is a police officer. This friend advises him to hire a caretaker for his mother, someone who could also double up as a bodyguard. The right person for the job – he insists – is a man named Tareq Ali, who has recently been released after serving nine years at a correctional facility. Since Mukti Debi is a staunch and devout Vaishnav, her son decides to hide the newly appointed Tareq’s religion and prison history from his mother. The rest of the film – predictable as it is – follows the relationship between Mukti Debi and Tareq Ali and the filial bond that begins to form between them after the initial hiccups.
There are two things that work in the film – the first being the central premise itself. Even if we were to ignore the fact that the film is a retelling, the very notion of a hardened convict and a grumpy old woman living together under the same roof in a symbiotic relationship that they both want to be in denial of is a priceless idea. And ably shouldering this idea are the film’s two protagonists – the ever-suspicious matriarch and her impassive new help with a heart of gold. But that’s about it. The rest of the film, including its storyline, its execution, the performances of the supporting characters, the economy – everything is frightfully sub-par. This is the sort of film where you will sit in the darkness of the theatre and wonder how such a beautiful idea could be handled in such an amateurish manner.
One of the greatest achievements of Driving Miss Daisy is its take on race, age and gender – and how nameless relationships develop against these backdrops in a tumultuous time. Shibu-Nandita’s film clearly wants to play it safe and chooses to take aim at a low hanging fruit – religion. Which would have been a perfectly acceptable choice, if only the treatment would not have been so preachy. Being preachy is something that has always been a highlight of Shibu-Nandita’s filmmaking style, so I was not surprised to come across scenes in which long lectures are delivered by Mukti Debi in schoolteacher style, even as others stand around her in strict attention, listening with their heads bowed. Not a very nice, cinematic way of doing things, if you ask me.
But perhaps the film’s greatest flaw lies in its excesses. Take the supporting character of Jhuma, for instance – a young girl who Mukti Debi has taken under her wings. I can assure you that if a list of supremely annoying characters ever to appear in the history of world cinema were to be compiled, then the character of Jhuma (played by Manali Dey) is bound to feature somewhere very high up in this dubious tally. As a member of the audience, I am not even sure how to root for such a singularly irritating character. Ambarish Bhattacharya overacts the hell out of his role and I feel he ought to make the best use of his acting prowess – which he is in the most generous possession of, we all know that – in better ways. Among the supporting cast, I did like Badshah Moitra in the brief role of a caring and no-nonsense cop, and – to a lesser extent than I would care to admit – Kharaj Mukhopadhyay as the villain of the piece, although the latter does not quite get to show the brilliant stuff that he is made of. In a short but delicious little role, a young ‘Kabir Singh’ type college Romeo shines with his natural flair as perhaps the most brilliant performer in the entire film.
Anashua Majumdar plays Miss Daisy quite well. There is a fearless poise and grace about her in the film, despite her fears of a solitude that she tries so hard to hide. Nigel Akkara is literally a machine, with a slab of a face that spares no emotion. But he is not devoid of feelings and emotions, as evident from the scene in which he gets to go home.
And yet, the film never quite feels real, always falling short of excellence. There is nothing new that is said about religion or caste – not even a new way of saying something that we already know. And it is purely in that sense that Gotro is less of an attempt at education, and more of a desire to ride a powerful idea just for the sake of doing so.
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