Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi (2019), a Hindi-language family drama, was released on Netflix in April 2021. Written and Directed by Seema Pahwa, Produced by Manish Mundra of Jio Studios and Drishyam Film, the film features an ensemble cast of several talented actors including Naseeruddin Shah and Supriya Pathak.
In short, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi embodies the quixotic extended family melodrama.
The family members of Ramprasad are all alive and kicking but they all have their own ax to grind. His unexpected death forces them to come face to face with the age-old hurt they have been nursing against everyone else. The narrative is presented as a theatrical performance by the director, Pahwa, and is well edited.
Opening scene: Ramprasad dies while giving an informal piano lesson to a neighbor’s kid. His wife calls her kids to inform them of his demise.
Scene Two: Four brothers, their three wives, two daughters, and their husbands, Mamaji and Mamiji, Tauji, buaji, assorted kids, and neighbors descend on the home. In less than a few minutes, their grief is vaporized by their selfishness. They are not evil, just wonderfully flawed like so many of us who think that someone else is responsible for our failures.
Following scenes: There is a struggle for control between elder members of the family, namely mamaji, tauji and buaji about after-death religious rituals (reminded me of a similar movie following a death: Pagglait). They haggle over the cost of firewood after they successfully cremate their father. Tears are brushed away and they are back to their normal routine, requesting jaggery sweetened tea and complain about the bland food. Then they blame their parents for all their misfortunes. Finally, they all depart and take with them their own agendas, giving interesting glimpses of their true selves. They all weep when they leave but not for their departed father or their widowed mother.
Song: I loved the song Ek Adhoora Kaam – a lighthearted moment that plunges the brothers into their childhood, giving us beautiful insight into Ramprasad’s musicality as a father.
Humor: There are a few chatpate “nok-jhok” between the old buaji and tauji, reminding us that childhood rivalry continues to the grave.
Climax: Ramprasad has a loan of 10 lakhs, which has to be repaid. They all have been borrowing money from him but still, it comes as a surprise to them and they blame each other with a vengeance.
Solution: Instead of shouldering any responsibility, they come with the solution of selling the shop or house without care for the financial security of their mother. “Kya karogi Amma akeli itne bade ghar mein?” No one wants to think about the mother’s welfare. They all keep talking in circles: “Kya karen amma ka?”
Best performance: Vikrant Massey, Konkona Sen Sharma, Parambrata Chatterjee, Vinay Pathak, Manoj Pahwa, and Vineet Kumar have acted very naturally. There are certainly so many characters in our households who are masters of that trait that it may be easy to draw from personal experiences. We have all witnessed a comical Eeyore-persona older brother, a cry-baby middle child, an opportunistic mamaji, a self-righteous sister, an instigating sister-in-law, and an amoral nephew. Veteran actors Naseeruddin Shah (father) and Supriya Pathaak (mother) emote so effortlessly through their expressions without long-winded dialogues. They have a common ally, Ramprasad’s diary.
Subplot: There is marital disharmony between the youngest brother Nishant and his wife Seema. The family interferes with this even though they don’t fully comprehend the problem but jibes and subtle taunts continue uninvited.
Solution the family proposes: Do they complete Ramprasad’s tehrvi at the allotted time on the first of January or do they shorten it to ten days or select a mutually convenient time for the thirteenth-day ritual to bid their father’s soul adieu? For that, and to find out what solution the mother comes up with, I recommend you watch Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi.
Last scene: A voiceover by Naseeruddin Shah’s soul dressed in a pure white kurta, pajama, and shawl delivers the important message. It’s not an obvious one, ie. that we must respect our parents and love our siblings. Rather, it is a more musical one and the piano lesson. The first scene sets the stage.
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.