KAPOOR & SONS (Since 1921). Players: Rishi Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor, Sidhdharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt. Director: Shakun Batra. Released by Dharma Productions, Fox Star Studios.kapoor-and-sons-3a

Families are depicted more realistically in movies these days than the “families that sing together, stay together” times. Kapoor and Sons comes from the stable of Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, who had once made Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham—the iconic movie with the picture-perfect family in color-coordinated ensembles, headed by a grim patriarch, with some estrangement and a final happy melt-in-each-other’s-arms ending.

Kapoor and Sons comes with a satisfying dose of reality—a dysfunctional family carrying uncomfortable secrets and bursting into spats, which, on occasion, even include utensil-throwing. Minutes into the film, I become a part of it.  I found myself taking sides, blaming, cheering, crying, laughing and rooting for characters.

Directory, Shakun Batra, in his second film after Ek Main aur Ek Tu manages to strike a balance between high-brow arty and low-brow potboiler.

The movie opens with Rahul Kapoor (Khan) cheerfully autographing his bestseller and a down-on-his-luck Arjun Kapoor (Malhotra) bartending and sending off his draft to publishers.

The contrast is quickly established between the perfect son and the also-ran, the former is his mother, Sunita’s (Pathak) pet, eats bhindi without grumbling and the other one is, well, there.

The two have to return home in lush Coonoor when Grandpa (Rishi Kapoor) suffers a heart-attack. The initial cold formality between the brothers gives us a hint that something has gone awry in the past but bigger worries loom. Like the presence of Anu Aunty haunting their parents’ marriage; father, Harsh’s (Rajat Kapoor), business collapsing and mother’s inability to reach for her dreams. And, to top it all, both brothers appear to be falling for chirpy Tia (Bhatt). Holding this crumbling family together, temporarily at least, is the grandpa’s last wish for a family-photograph.

Despite the seemingly simple storyline, enough mystery—whether it is about the father’s supposed infidelity, the past reason for the coolness between the brothers, the present question as to which one of them will finally get the girl and then, whether Grandpa will get his last wish—keep the film taut and abidingly interesting. The collage-effect of all the stories running side-by-side keeps the film from sagging at any point and the onion-peel revelations about the characters make this film amazingly different from the predictability we have been so used to.

Among its many laugh-out-loud moments, the one that must be mentioned is the shouting match between Sunita and Harsh, much to the befuddlement of a poor plumber who is the hapless witness to the drama. Then there are those hilarious interchanges between the “bad” grandson and the still full-of-beans Grandpa, with his penchant for all things forbidden.

Malhotra brings a hitherto unseen vulnerability to his role as the son who is always second-best. Khan, already an acknowledged actor, depicts his internal conflicts as the good son who bears his own cross. Shah, who is well known to convey reams of dialog with a mere look, beautifully portrays the hurt and frustration of a wife battling to present an “all-is-well” façade to the world. Bhatt, as the love-interest, is more than a cardboard cut-out. While she is good in the boisterous scenes, she excels in the dramatic ones.

My annoyance is with the extensive makeup that Rishi Kapoor is saddled with. Why? The face and the eyes with their pale contact-lenses remain carved of cement and it falls upon Kapoor to convey all through his voice.

The director has used the green valleys, tea-gardens, and the sudden showers of Coonoor as tools of the narrative, like the dark skies portending gloom and the torrential rains preceding heart-breaking revelations. The Shakespearean “inner tumult reflected in storms outside” has been used to superb effect in the movie. The music doesn’t quite rise to the challenge. While being pleasant and well-picturized, the songs and tunes are not ones I will remember.

Nevertheless, Kapoor and Sons is easily the top-contender among the well-made films this year and a worthy successor to last year’s  superb Piku, another film about a family next-door.

EQ: B+

Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and a teacher.

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