Friday, March 25, 2016

Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921)—Of Family

After giving us the wonderful Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Shakun Batra comes with his second offing, Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921), which is even more delightful than his first film. Set in the quiet Coonoor, the story is about the Kapoors. Ex-army man Dadu (Rishi Kapoor) lives with his son Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and daughter-in-law Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah). The couple has two sons. Rahul (Fawad Khan), the elder child, is a successful writer based in London. Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra), the younger one, is a struggling writer, who works as a bartender in New Jersey. Dadu suffers a heart attack, and the two brothers visit the family. However, the family is struggling through not only a financial crisis, but also a relationship crisis among themselves, due to unresolved differences and deep secrets, that threatens to rock the very foundation of their family. In an interview, Shakun, who calls himself a 'Woody, Wes and Wilder Fan' in his Twitter bio, says he loves Hannah and Her Sisters and reunion films, which are loaded with secrets from the past, and what happens to these unresolved issues when they resurface. He takes inspiration from his favorite films and gives us an incredibly heartfelt, and deeply poignant tale on family, and human relationships. 

Shakun, further adds, "But what if I wanted to go big in depth, character and psyche? I wanted to go where the story was more important than the gloss, glamour, and scale. I was not a hundred percent satisfied with Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. I was sincere, but the film lacked maturity."  I was a bit surprised by the statement because I felt his first film was a much mature film. In another interview with The Boss Dialogues, Ayan Mukerji had said that he liked his second movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani more than Wake Up Sid. It is interesting to see the self-reflection by directors on their films, contrary to expectations and opinion. Nevertheless, without digressing, Kapoor Sons definitely has the same common shades as Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. In fact, the lead character is Rahul, and even the family is named Kapoor in both films. Both the films deal with children having issues with the expectations of parents. The 'perfectly average' Rahul in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, who felt like a loser, where on coming second in a competition his parents admonished him that he did not win a silver medal, but rather he lost a gold medal, finds resonance in Arjun in Kapoor Sons, who felt like a runner-up, and second-best all his life. Ratna Pathak Shah plays the mother in both films. The cheerful Riana in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, affectionately called Ri, carries much deeper wounds in herself where she could not become a ballet dancer. The effervescent Tia in Kapoor Sons affectionately called Ti, dealt with her own grief of losing her parents. It is only befitting that the successor of Ri, played by Kareena Kapoor, is Ti, played Alia Bhatt, who has been popularly called the new Kareena Kapoor. The lovable granny in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and the equally lovable Dadu in Kapoor Sons have the same traits. Both the films had a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai reference at some point, and like Karan Johar's second film, it's-all-about-loving-your-parents Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Shakun Batra's second film incorporates a message on the same theme. His second film has not only gone big in depth, character, and psyche but also big on emotions.
The shadow of death looms everywhere in the film, but in addition to death, the film underscores the characters' wish to leave a memory, and their ability to hold onto those memories. Death is certain and reminds us of our mortality, but memories are immortal. Dadu does not want to be cremated after death, rather he wants to be buried, in a way leaving behind a place to visit him after his death. One of the most beautiful scenes in the film happens when Arjun and Tia are on a date in a graveyard, a place where the last remains and the last memories of people are buried. When Tia asks Arjun what he would like to be written on his tombstone, he says, "Aakhri baar likh raha hun, ho sake to kahaani yaad rakhna." He is writing the last time, so, if possible, try to remember his story. Tia is stunned at his perceptiveness that for a minute, she does not say anything. I had expected that he would say something funny like Phoebe in Friends said that hers would read buried alive, but Arjun says such a beautiful line, again hinting at memories after death. A writer continues to live in his works, long after he is gone, and the fact that Rahul and Arjun are writers, it points to this theme of leaving a story and remembering them through that story. Tia, too, clearly remembers the last time she spoke to her parents, and she regrets that she could not say goodbye to her parents. All through these years, she has also held onto her heritage house, and never sold it.
The film is infused with family photographs, that are also a reminder of the memories. Dadu's dying wish is to have a picture clicked with his entire family. The family bonds with each other while singing Chand Si Mehbooba and looking over old photographs, that help them discover the good times of the past. At one point, Harsh is looking at the pictures of his honeymoon and says that they were in Gulmarg, but Sunita corrects him that it was Sonmarg. He, then, remembers the time he had to placate Sunita. The first thing that Rahul and Arjun do when they go into their rooms, is to look at their old things; Arjun is disappointed that his room is not kept the way he left (like another Friends episode where all of Monica's stuff is destroyed in the rain, while Ross' is safe). In many scenes, Arjun clicks pictures from his cellphone. He clicks Rahul's picture when he is smoking; later, when Rahul bangs the car, he poses to get his picture clicked as if that too is a memory worth remembering. No surprise that Arjun's friend is a photographer. Later, Rahul is looking at the pictures on the wall of the house. In a later scene, Arjun also looks at Tia's house, which is full of her pictures with her parents. After Harsh's death, a life-size cutout takes his place in the family picture, quite symbolic that he might have gone, but his presence in their life is eternal, and his cutout picture epitomizes this presence. There is another touching scene in the film where Sunita caresses Harsh's pillow and his clothes after his death. Whether it is a pack of sweet cigarettes of Tia, or a bunch of Barely Legal adult magazines of Arjun, or the number of times that Dadu remembers he has watched Ram Teri Ganga Maili, these people hold on to every memory of theirs. Un yaadon ko main sau crore ke liye bhi na bechu. Nostalgia is a significant part of their lives, and the thing about nostalgia is it makes one feel young and old at the same time. As the ever-so-wonderful Haruki Murakami writes, "People's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel." Likewise, the memories they carry are an important part of the lives of these people.
At one point, Rahul says that everyone is scared of something or the other. Tia says that she is scared of flying, while Rahul says that he is scared of rats. Later, we find out the reason as to why she felt scared because she lost her parents in an air crash and she did not even have the chance to say one last goodbye to them. It is because of the traumatic experience that left a scar on her that she is still afraid of flying. But we also get an idea as to why Rahul is scared of rats. He carries a deep secret within himself and he is trying to hide that secret from his family, and since characters in the film have a disposition similar to those belonging to an English film, Rahul's fear of rats could be surmised to the fear of someone 'ratting' him out of his secret.
A thesis can be written on the changing portrayal of homosexuality in a Dharma Productions film. Films, such as Kal Ho Naa Ho and Dostana, depicted a stereotypical portrayal of alternate sexuality. Although it was a caricature with none of the real characters actually gay, the films have been landmark because they helped bring the conversation of a taboo topic to the mainstream. I remember reading somewhere that the Kanta Ben gag in Kal Ho Naa Ho helped many gay men explain to their parents the truth about themselves. In Student of the Year, the school dean was gay, but more than the dean, there were very visible homoerotic tones in the two lead characters, Rohan and Abhimanyu. In other films of Dharma Productions, such as Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Shaandaar, there were again references to homosexuality, particularly, in the latter, where the coming out of a character was almost a non-event because everyone in his family already knew about his sexuality. However, Kapoor Sons portrays homosexuality in a beautiful way; there are no caricatures, there are no stereotypes. It is befitting that Rahul—the lead character and the poster lover boy of many a staple romantic movie, from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham—plays another role of a lover boy, but this time, he is in a relationship with another man. If Rahul can romance all the ladies, it is only natural, that Rahul can love a man. None of the three reigning Khans, who can make the entire film industry dance to their tunes, or, for that matter, any mainstream actor, has done a role of a homosexual, but as if it is some kind of poetic justice, that another reigning Khan, named Fawad, from a supposedly conservative country, does a role, such as this one, with such confidence and aplomb. The word Fawad means heart, and, is also referred to as someone who keeps his love to himself yet loves enormously. As they say, things don't happen by accident, they happen for a reason. Destiny loves to play its games.
There was something about the inherent loneliness of Rahul that made me care for him. It is not that he did not try to tell the truth about himself to his family. Earlier, when he came from London, he tells his mother to come and visit him so that she can see with whom he stays. Main kis tarah rehta hun, more importantly, kis ke saath rehta hun. It was his first hint to tell his mother, but she immediately started pestering him for grandchildren. He tells Arjun that he will take his place in one second because he cannot change something about himself. When he tries to tell to Arjun while talking on their bed, Arjun is already asleep. Ek baat batau Arjun jo maine kisi ko nahi batai. His family members either don't hear him, or don't see what he is trying to convey. When he tells his mother, he says, "Aapko mere jhoot bolna ka gham hai, ya meri asliyat ka. Lekin jo main hun uske liye main kis tarah maafi maang lu. Main perfect label ke bachhe se thak gaya hun." When he finally tells Arjun about it, Arjun replies that he does not know what to say to him. He says his whole life is a lie, and he does not expect anyone in the house will understand him. He is burdened by the expectations of being the perfect son of his mother. Thak gaya hun main apne aap se bhaag ke, aap se bhaag ke, logon ke dar se. I just want you to love me for who I am. In a beautiful touch, even the book he has written is titled Freedom Fall, as he wants to break free, and wants to be who he is. His coming out was the first step he took towards his freedom, and it was deeply moving. I wish I could read his book to know if his writing reflects his claustrophobia. In the end, his mother accepts him and even asks him about his friend. I hope Rahul finds the happiness that he really deserves. Fawad brings an abundance of grace to Rahul, and of course, a little bit of sweet Urdu accent always helps. I am now firmly in the I-Heart-Fawad Khan camp. Like the famous brother-sister Surf Excel ad of Daag Acche Hain, Rahul made me very protective of him, and I will fight for him. There are millions of people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, and I hope this would give some courage to people because in the end #LoveWins.
On the other hand, Arjun is the brother who always felt he was not good. He was never the favorite child of his parents. He, too, wants to be a writer like his elder brother, but he is not sure if he can be one. He wants to be a full-time author but is now a part-time bartender. He does not have enough money to book a ticket to India. He calls himself the second best and the runner-up. He came to terms that, perhaps, there is something missing in him. He never completed anything in life and moved from one thing to another. When he comes back from New Jersey, the things in his room are not the same while Rahul's room is maintained like before. When he leaves shoe marks on the floor, his mother asks if he made the mess as if he is the cause of everything messy. His favorite dishes are not made. Even the airlines lose his baggage. Arjun thinks he is an underachiever and is diffident. In this way, Arjun was very much like Rahul from Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. Rahul felt like a loser and a failure. He thinks that life's problems are dumped onto him. When he breaks off with his girlfriend, he thinks that the problem might be with himself. At one point, in that film, Rianna tells Rahul that he is perfectly average, so he should feel good about it. There are some characters that have stayed with me over the years, such as Rahul from Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, and Sid and Deepa from Dil Chahta Hai. Rahul from Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is one of the characters that I have seen closest to myself on the screen. Likewise, I saw a bit of myself in both Rahul and Arjun from Kapoor Sons. The wish to be a writer, the burden of expectations, the feeling of being a loser, the lack of self-confidence. And, yes, Arjun writes bakvaas Bollywood blogs, so that is one more common thing. I bawled like a baby in the last fifteen minutes, because sometimes, insecurities of your own life take over you. I am sure both Rahul and Arjun will stay with me for years to come.
There is a lovely scene in the film where one of the pipes in the family's washroom starts leaking. A plumber is called to fix the leaking pipes and put M-Seal. The family is constantly fighting among themselves in the scene, and the characters keep rushing to the bathroom to help the plumber fix it. The leak was so much about the family itself, with a bucket full of secrets now starting to overflow. They brushed away the leak for too long but it has now reached a tipping point, and the family needs to deal with it. They are all looking for a means to closure. The father has to end the burden of the loan, but also find a way to end his secret extramarital affair. The mother has to deal with the closure of a secret that can threaten the relationship between her sons, and also find a way to move on to pursue a catering business rather than constantly bickering every day with her husband. The elder brother is looking for a way to 'fix' the ending of his book, by fixing the plot points, but he has also found a way to let his family gain acceptance of another secret about himself. The younger brother says he has not completed anything in his life, not even his graduation, and he, too, has to find an ending for his book to prove himself and make big, but he also has to deal with the fractious relationship with his brother, and his parents. After a happy night, Sunita and Harsh talk about being happy again. Everyone wants a happy ending, says Rahul. Vahi khushi kahaaniyon me talaash karte hain. There is no guarantee of a happy ending in real life, says Arjun. But to reach any end, there has to be some closure, and it can be reached through acceptance and redemption. In The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini writes, "There is a way to be good again." The Kapoors have taken steps towards redemption, and they will slowly find a way to be good again.

It is hard to write on Kapoor & Sons without using the word dysfunctional. Like it was hard to find a review of Finding Fanny without the word quirky. Dysfunctional families have been present in India since times immemorial. Even the greatest story ever told—The Mahabharata—is based on a dysfunctional family with feuding brothers. The mother Kunti had different levels of affection for her two sons, Karan and Arjun. In Kapoor & Sons, there is another pair of Karan and Arjun, with parents showing different levels of affection for one son over the other. Such families were always there, perhaps, it is just the frequency of such films, has been much higher recently. More than last year's family drama Dil Dhadakne Do, Kapoor & Sons reminded me of Piku. The constant bickering, the scatological jokes, the larger message, even some scenes are reminiscent of Piku a lot. At one point during the end, Rana says to Piku, "I am not saying tum galat ho. Maybe this is the way forward. Isi ko log development bolte hain. Par apni roots unko agar ukhad do, toh kya bachega." The roots is not only referring to the ancestral house but also our parents and grandparents. We can leave them and put them in old age homes, but Piku chose to stay with her father and did not abandon him. As Piku also says, if there was somebody else in her position, she would have done the same because we cannot judge parents. In Kapoor & Sons, during the ending moments, Dadu calls Rahul and Arjun and says that everyone makes mistakes, and whatever happens, one cannot abandon the family, like Piku's message. In an earlier moment in Piku, Rana helps 'fix' the water pump with Piku sitting next to him, and Budon giving them updates, "Dheere dheere aa raha hai," filled with metaphors. In Kapoor & Sons, too, the scene with the plumber, who is there to repair the leaking pipes, is also filled with metaphors. Sometimes, an outsider helps us provide a perspective.
Needless to say, the performances are excellent. Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah are excellent in their roles. Rishi Kapoor is also good, though his make-up felt a bit out of the place. (Is it some coincidence that two lead characters are actually Kapoor in real life?) Alia Bhatt is truly a pleasure to watch on screen. Sidharth Malhotra is competent and charming. Fawad Khan was the performance that worked the best for me. My favorite scenes were the ones between Arjun and Rahul, where they share a certain camaraderie and candor, like the way Rahul nudges his leg on Arjun's head, or the way Arjun makes fun of Rahul's driving skills.
I, totally, enjoyed Kar Gayi Chull, and it is such a catchy song. I laughed out loud at some subtitles. Anu Malik became Justin Bieber, Byomkesh became Sherlock, and Karan Arjun became Beavis Butt-head. But the best thing was the story itself where each character gets enough space to leave a mark, be it Boobly, or the plumber. Much has been written on the reason for choosing Coonoor, but I never felt it was out of the place for a Punjabi family, given that Harsh worked in a bank, it is quite common for bank officials to get transferred, perhaps, they made it their home. Or, perhaps, it has something to do with Dadu's Army background. I could not get the reason for 1921 though, considering Dadu is 90 years old, so he should have been born around 1926, but I am sure I might have missed something while watching it. I was curious as to how can Arjun work in the US as a bartender without having a full-time job. As far as I know, unless you are a citizen, one cannot work part-time unless, of course, he was working illegally. 
The film's final confrontational scene happens in the rain as if all the past sins of everybody were washed in that cathartic rain. All their secrets came out together in the manic downpour bringing a certain breathlessness with it. In the end, the photograph is taken in bright sunshine, as there is some atonement of the past, and there is some hope for the future. As Saathi Re's lyrics say "Phir wohi barsaat hogi, aur ashq saare dhul se jaayenge, roshni din raat hogi, aur sab jharokhe khul se jaayenge." The rainfall will happen again, and all the tears will get washed away. Light will be there all day and night, and all the windows will be open. 

Like any Dharma film, the film opens with a tribute to Karan Johar's father with the words, "We miss you." In the film, Dadu is in love with Mandakini from Ram Teri Ganga Maili, a film made by Rishi Kapoor's own father, as if that was another meta-Kapoor Sons. The film's message delivered by Dadu to his grandsons, that everyone makes mistakes but that does not mean that we abandon the people in our family. It means being there for them in both their high and low moments. We need to accept them with their flaws, because, how much we try, we cannot change our family. Blood is thicker than water. Like Wasim is always there for his brother Boobly to support him in his bodybuilding competition, however, silly it might look. Like Arjun learned the true value of family after the death of his father. Like Tia regrets saying those harsh words to her parents. Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude. As the beautiful title of Arjun's book says, We All Live In A Cloud. Sometimes, this cloud is dark giving away to a downpour; sometimes, this cloud is white like a cotton ball in the glorious sun, and occasionally, it will be both when there is the rain and the sun together, giving us a gorgeous rainbow with colors, much like the bittersweet shades of life itself.  

Other Reading: 
1. On Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (link)
2. On Piku (link)

Dialogue of the Day:-
"Aakhri baar likh raha hun, ho sake to kahaani yaad rakhna."
—Arjun, Kapoor Sons (Since 1921)


  1. Another very nice piece...!!

  2. This was another excellent piece. My wife and I had the pleasure of watching Kapoor and Sons at the theater earlier today. It was a very powerful and moving experience. The last twenty minutes were so heartbreaking and poignant, beautiful and devastating. My wife cried her eyes out and I did everything I could to hold back my tears. I was also surprised at the amount of tender, laugh out loud funny moments and how well they worked. It was an interesting contrast between the humour, eruption of family turmoil, and melancholy. It worked so very well and felt so very much like real life. Each character was flawed, however, they could all be empathized with. I have no doubt that this will be on my 'best of the year' list in December, most probably in the top five. Thank you for your insights, as usual, you notice little aspects of films that one could easily overlook.

  3. As always, very well written. Gratitude to you for writing on all these movies. It was indeed a very touching and fine movie. Wondering how do you capture all these details. Do you run the movie and pause it to take down votes before resuming or just take mental notes and finally synthesize it. Whatever your approach is, the outcome is always detailed and very rich.

  4. Thanks, Ryan and Swati.

    @Rahul - Thank you, and thank you for reading :) Actually, I use a little bit of both - I make a note of something that seems interesting in my notebook that I carry along and write it down immediately, and then, later, try to synthesize as to what did it actually mean. It takes a lot of time to finish a post, if only I could write as fast as some other people.

  5. Wow.. Just wow. I just can't believe this. As beautiful as the movie itself. I just loved it. I love the movie even more now. Wow... wow wow.. Thanks a lot buddy.


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