Rajma Chawal movie review: The best thing about Leena Yadav's charming film is Rishi Kapoor's performance

Pradeep Menon

November 01, 2018 15:59:35 IST

3.5/5

Rishi Kapoor's ‘petulant uncle’ image on Twitter is a mighty distraction from the acting ability he brings to the table; but if ever you needed a reminder of just how good he is at his craft, look no further than Leena Yadav's Rajma Chawal, which has been presented by Netflix, and was screened at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival.

The best thing about the film is easily Rishi Kapoor's earnest performance as a father who's trying his best to bridge the communication gap with his son, after his wife (and mother to his only child) passes away. The son's angst is further compounded by the fact that his father decides to move out of the convenience and status of living in New Delhi, to go back to his roots in Chandni Chowk. The cosmopolitan son sees this as an affront to his sensibilities, uprooting him from the more 'classy' environs he grew up in.

It is an intimate little film, Rajma Chawal; yet this is the sort of turn our so-called 'commercial’ cinema should be taking. The characters may or may not be relatable, and there are plenty of leaps of faith the film expects you to make; but it is also an honest, charming film that will make you laugh and cry.

Old and New Delhi, and even Gurgaon feature often in the film, playing host to a bunch of characters. Shot in actual locations, often ones jam-packed with the chaos of real life flavouring the method of cinema, the film is a potpourri of many strands of the characters’ lives, primarily delving into the strained father-son relationship, a love story featuring the son that was unintentionally put in motion by the father, and the son's own dream of making it big as a musician.

The poster of Rajma Chawal. Image from Facebook.

(As an aside, it's interesting how Leena Yadav manages to adequately capture the frailties and insecurities of a purely masculine relationship - something that's difficult to imagine if the director was male and the relationship was a mother-daughter one.)

Along with these angles in the story, the film is dotted by a host of characters that add to the satiating experience of the film. The likes of Manurishi Chadha (who's in sparkling form both as actor and dialogue writer), Sheeba Chaddha, Harish Khanna, Diksha Juneja and the scene-stealing Aparshakti Khurrana elevate the film significantly. In fact, from an acting standpoint, it is the two young lovers, played by Anirudh Tanwar and Amyra Dastur, who struggle the most.

Amyra has certainly improved since her debut, and you can tell she has worked hard. However, hearing her mouth the kind of lines that Anushka Sharma and Parineeti Chopra did early in their career, but never truly capturing the loud Delhi ethos, ends up being a bit of a letdown.

The same goes for debutante lead actor Anirudh Tanwar, who, it's evident, submitted himself to the director's vision of the character; yet he lacks the spunk and heart this complex character needed. (In that regard, this seems like the kind of role tailored to the other Khurrana - Ayushmann. What a difference someone like him would've made.)

The thing about Rajma Chawal is, even with the hairbrained ideas the father comes up with to reconnect with his son, or the sheer number of little coincidences you'll be expected to turn a blind eye to, the film merrily pulls you along on the zany ride that it is.

One reason, of course, is Leena Yadav's tight direction - watch out, in particular, for a stunningly executed dream sequence, where the son discovers his late mother's love and affection for Old Delhi. Then of course, there are the two key members of the principal crew, whose work in the film helps it beyond measure - veteran Australian cinematographer Donald McAlpine (who shot Moulin Rouge and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, among plenty of others) and Academy-award winning editor of Witness, Thom Noble. They capture the feel and rhythm of Chandni Chowk in a way that could put Indian technicians to shame. (It's another matter that the latter half of the film could have been pruned a bit, particularly the messy Priyadarshan-esque pre-climax that everyone in the film becomes a part of.)

The film also has a bunch of decent songs by Hitesh Sonik, the lyrics of which are also used by Anirudh's character Kabir to express his own state of mind. Kabir's journey essentially drives the film, and he's an aspiring musician, so this aspect was critical, and Sonik largely delivers.

Rajma-chawal, the dish itself, features just a couple of times in the film, probably working as a metaphor for the sheer comfort the film offers. Personally, I extended the contentment offered by the film by going home and having, what else, rajma-chawal. Need I say more?

Updated Date: Nov 01, 2018 15:59 PM