Movie Review: Kapoor & Sons

Short review:

Dear filmgoers,

I am terribly sorry about K3G. Please accept this by way of reparations.

Sincerely etc.

Karan Johar


Longer review:

What a marvel of a script this is!

The premise is not new. Dil Dhadakne Do, for instance, was also based on the same pressure cooker premise: throw a dysfunctional family and a few supporting characters in, close the lid, turn up the heat and film the result. I’m sure you can name a handful of Hollywood films with the same premise as well. What is rare, at least in Hindi cinema, is the felicity with which it is written, performed and directed.

Director-writer Shakun Batra and his co-writer Ayesha Dhillon get so many of the little things right. When Arjun walks into his old bedroom upon coming home, the first thing he sees is an indoor bicycle in the corner. At the same time, Rahul — the favoured son, the Golden Boy who could do no wrong — enters an immaculately maintained room. It’s a small detail whose purpose is to indicate the contrast between how the two sons aren’t treated the same way, but here’s the thing: a lesser film would have made that room an utter dump. This one just shows a room that has been repurposed a bit. What you see here is the result of a natural sequence of events (the cycle was probably purchased after a visit to the doctor by either or both parents, and a vast majority of people who buy that thing put it in a spare bedroom where there’s some space) combined with semi-conscious choice (his bedroom, rather than his brother’s).

Rahul and Arjun have a somewhat fractious relationship as siblings who have enjoyed varying degrees of success; the same is true of their father and his brother at some level. Every major character (the parents, the siblings, the girl) carries around a load of guilt, most of it having to do with the secrets they’re hiding; no wonder the happiest man around is the ailing potty-mouthed grandfather who doesn’t seem to have much use for the term “impulse control”. Tia’s statement around her fear of flying isn’t simply meant to set up a gag around Rahul’s fear of rats — it serves to set up a later, more dramatic conversation. Even the ending, where people seem to have achieved some degree of happiness/peace, isn’t entirely forced: it recalls an earlier conversation between the brothers on stories having happy endings. Like I said, so much, so right.

Then there’s the dialogue: This film envelops you in a wall of sound when more than two characters are in the frame. The work of Richard Altman comes to mind. It takes a certain skill to make that sort of thing work.

The most impressive example of this comes in a scene where the siblings and their parents are all arguing while a plumber tries to fix a leaking pipe in the background. It’s amazing how they carom off each other — the conflict keeps shifting, and not one of the characters is uninvolved. Not even the hapless plumber, who, when asked how much he is owed, gets probably the funniest line in the script.

The other great example comes late in the film, when the characters are supposed to assemble to take a family photo. The writing sets up the whole sequence wonderfully: the previous night is spent partying and the characters go to sleep more or less happy. The calm before the storm, if you will. The next morning, things begin to unravel slowly. In separate scenes intercut with each other, each character finds out something about the other and is set on a collision course. Batra even uses the weather (gathering clouds threatening to make a mess of the photography plans) to punctuate the action — I know it’s a cliche, but he doesn’t use it like one, and has the sense to close the loop with another photography session on a warm, sunny day.

The way these narrative strands cohere as the family ties themselves are unraveling — the whole thing is so fluid, it’s an absolute delight to watch.

If at all there is a misstep here, it is in how Batra doesn’t quit while he’s ahead. From a film-making standpoint, everything in that sequence is more or less a logical consequence of things that have already happened. The contrivance is only in having it all happen at once. But the sequence is supposed to end when an external force disrupts the rhythm, i.e., when a character dies unexpectedly. But where the narrative rhythm is broken, the fluid editing rhythm isn’t — we cut smoothly to the funeral, when we should be pausing to register what has just happened. It robs that disruptive moment of its impact.

But look at what I am complaining about: Too many secrets come out at the same time, whereas in real life such coincidences are improbable. A great sequence has a less-than-great ending because the editing is too smooth. How wonderful is it that these are the film’s major faults?

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3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Kapoor & Sons

  1. S says:

    I saw this couple weeks back. I don’t know if it’s due to bloated expectations from reading the review, but it was extremely underwhelming (I’m tempted to used the word “banal”…because it felt so… uninvolving). Completely agree about the script being awesome and the narration fluid. The misstep to me seems to be in the casting. No way I could buy the gorgeous duo with their “rich kids” baggage (from previous roles I remember them in) as stuck in this middle class family’s brotherly rut. That disconnect happened right after I saw them in the first scene, and then in their Coonur rooms. The contrast was unbearably stark. From then on, the money woes and the plumber scenes made little sense. I kept wanting to see, for instance, the guys from Kai Po Che cast in the brothers role, for believability. And I couldn’t stand Rishi Kapoor for a second; his worst role by far IMO. He felt like a caricature. Overall it felt as if a fascinatingly human premise was pulled apart by some miscues in casting. Maybe it’s just me. Things like arguing over the plumber’s head felt real life raw (I kept recalling a similar episode growing up; our ceiling fan conked off middle of summer; my dad tried for hours to fix it, no luck; an electrician was called; while he was at it, dad glimpsed the neighbor guy dumping garbage over the wall into our compound; he flew into a rage and was simultaneously yelling out the window and addressing the handyman who, unfazed, kept on repairing the fan)…I just couldn’t relate to the likes of Fawad and Siddharth being put in a similar situation. Ratna Pathak as haranguing wife was pitch perfect, but wish her dual guilt had been explored more (she inadvertently kills, twice: her son’s literary career and, literally, her husband).

  2. Interesting observation. If you are unable to imagine these guys as these characters, I can completely understand why the film wouldn’t work for you.

    I felt they went apeshit on Rishi’s makeup, but otherwise, I think his role was deliberately written to appear at odds with the rest of the film.

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