Shakun Batra directs Siddharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor in the dysfunctional family drama Kapoor and Sons. Bollywood mainstream movies have mostly steered clear of the uglier side of the familial dynamics and immortalized the gigantic joint families with coordinated dance moves and weddings grander than Laxmi Mittal’s daughter’s, but with the first scene itself Kapoor and Sons sets itself apart. This is more August Osage County than a Barjatiya caper.
The Kapoors consist of Daddy Kapoor played by Rajat Kapoor who once a bank officer is now a failed business owner quickly running through his savings and investing in a mysterious Anu aunty. Mummy Kapoor is Ratna Pathak Shah who made a meal out of playing the high society matriarch Maya Sarabhai, here she plays a character that is a polar opposite as then long-suffering wife who is trapped in a loveless marriage which is taking its toll on her ambition. Granddad Kapoor is Rishi Kapoor who is the glue that holds the entire enterprise together. All seeing and all understanding he doesn’t meddle but passes his time being crude yet lovable. It is his heart attack that brings back the two sons Kapoor’s back home to Coonoor, Rahul the London based successful author and all around perfect child played by Fawad and part-time bartender and aspiring author Arjun from New Jersey. The brothers don’t see eye to eye and are merely cordial out of obligation. There are subtle hints dropped along the way that there is something more sinister than mere sibling rivalry that is the reason for the tension amongst the brothers. Alia Bhatt plays Tia Mallik in a role that most other leading ladies would shy away from because it is not meaty enough and is merely a supporting role but not Alia who continues her march towards greatness as being entirely believable and extremely relatable.
The first half of the movie didn’t blow me away, not because the story or the direction was lacking, both are fantastic there is enough subtlety to keep me interested but it is the screenplay and dialogue that doesn’t seem to coalesce as seamlessly as it does in the second half. The build-up just before interval where Mumma Kapoor confronts Papa Kapoor over his philandering at the 90th birthday celebration for Gramps is something you never ever see in Bollywood. The second half unravels fast and furious and it hits you from out of left field that you are left teetering at the intensity of one tragedy after the other that befalls the Kapoor clan and you are left bleary eyed like Rishi Kapoor who silently watches his “happy family picture” disintegrate before he can take the picture he so badly wanted to take and emblazon it with “Kapoor and Sons since 1921”.
The second half is chockfull of memorable scenes. One where Ratna Pathak Shah tries on Rajat Kapoor’s chappals and breaks down, another where she confronts his perfect child Rahul over his life of lies, another where Rahul confesses his truth to his brother Arjun who an aspiring author himself is left speechless and simply says he needs time process this. There is an endearing scene between Arjun and Tia when he drops her off after having spent a day at a graveyard where she can’t find the right words to describe how she feels and simply says “it just fits” when she is with him, and another where she opens up about her final conversation with her parents. This is a movie that will benefit from rewatch and you will be delighted at the masterfully layered storytelling, not something you usually associate with a Karan Johar production. Every dialogue has a subtext, a sub plot that will stay with you long after the end credits, for instance the one where an exasperated Rajat Kapoor complains to his son about how his mother is being unreasonable by comparing him to her brother in law who used to hit her sister and how Kapoor isn’t that bad, this is how most normal people reason their character flaws and it is a subtlety that makes this movie that much more special for me.
Of the actors Rajat Kapoor, Alia and Siddharth are competent; Rishi Kapoor is a Gem and truly shines despite all that impressive prosthetics and make-up. Fawad Khan is the real revelation here with his measured and sensitive portrayal where he has enough humor and cheek to balance the seriousness that comes with being the older child who is perceived to be perfect.He desperately tries to keep his family together despite everyone’s best effort to make it implode. Ratna Pathak Shah is a national treasure and she must be cherished. I hope she takes on more such roles and stakes her claim on the matriarchal estate in Bollywood.
Kapoor and Sons is masterfully directed, with a strong uncompromising script and a stellar ensemble cast that puts in a brilliant performance individually and as a group. This nuanced look at the grey areas of the domestic drama is a must watch.