Kapoor and Sons(2016,India)
Director: Shakun Batra
“You know, you know how you’re always tryin’ t’ get things to come out perfect in art because, uh, it’s real difficult in life.”
– Annie Hall(1977,Woody Allen)
If we look at it, we all seem to be in a pursuit of perfection.Within us lies a strong desire to have a perfect life, a perfect childhood, a perfect career and of course a perfect family living in a perfect house of a perfect locality. Family photos are a great epitome of that desire. The large photographs encrusted with expensive frames adorning the living rooms of houses conceal so many secrets, lies, and scars. It’s designed to make us wonder in awe of the possibility that a group of people who somehow are destined to be together (not exactly by choice) can indeed live together and love each other. Sooner or later we tend to find out that it’s all an illusion. There’s nothing like a perfectly happy family.
In Shakun Batra’s Kapoor and Sons, we see people who are entangled because of this futile and tireless pursuit and as a result cause nothing but suffering to themselves and people who love them. It also poses an intriguing question whether it’s better to have a dysfunctional family or no family at all(Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom posed a similar question). We see members of a family, having a wonderful house surrounded by the magnificent Nilgiris in Coonoor (We rarely see any locals and the presence of only North Indian public in this South Indian hill station seems a bit jarring)who carry deep indignation within themselves for not getting the love or sympathy they feel they deserve.
Let’s start with the brazenly perverse Grandfather Amarjeet Singh(played by a prosthetic-laden Rishi Kapoor) who very well knows how broken his family is in reality but still forces everyone to pose for that perfect family photo. He wants to have that familiar comfort of falsity before his death. He seems to seek in it a way to preserve his legacy and even optimistically consider it as a panacea for all the problems that plague his family.
Unlike Noah Baumbach’s brilliant Squid and the Whale (2005), where the father(played by Jeff Daniels) comes out as the most hypocritical and in a way the most pitiable character, in Kapoor and Sons, it’s the mother. Sunita(Ratna Pathak Shah) is angry and resentful at her husband for being a failed businessman(He left his stable job as a banker to start his own business), for not being supportive of her own entrepreneurial dreams and for possibly cheating on her with his former colleague. It seems strange to us that she comes out shocked later in the movie when his husband Harsh Kapoor(Rajat Kapoor) confesses about his affair because she seems to be totally convinced of it happening since forever. This lack of consistency in her character comes out as a peccadillo when one compares it with the emotional damage she inadvertently and (in the case of her younger son) intentionally causes. Her consistent desire to have a perfect son by putting all her idealistic projections on her elder son, Rahul (Fawad Khan) leads the latter to live a totally ersatz and dishonest life.Rahul to her seems to be less like a son or a person but a personal project.The success of which matters so much to her that she is adamant to even lie, betray and completely alienate her younger son, Arjun (Siddharth Malhotra) who wants nothing but to please her and be good enough for her love.
The final act of the movie is really underwhelming as it neatly resolves most of the problems in the family.Batra’s decision to end his film in an upbeat manner as if an unexpected death(I wish the maker hadn’t blatantly lifted Annette Bening’s breakdown scene from American Beauty) was all that was needed turns out to be an insipid one.There is a lot going on in the story but most of the time, it feels that the makers themselves are unaware of its presence or are deliberately avoiding it.Horrible casting decisions like that of Siddharth Malhotra(for arguably the most sympathetic character in the movie) who totally seems beside himself in scenes which are emotionally demanding doesn’t help the cause either. Bollywood movies generally ask its viewers not to think much while viewing or afterwards.“Kapoor and Sons” at least wants us to think and argue about it later and in that way, it somehow manages to redeem itself.