Disappointment. It’s a loaded word. If all depends on context, doesn’t it? It doesn’t mean a failure. Not necessarily.
Just look at the Mehras. The son, heir apparent to a business empire, has not head for business. The daughter, expected to be a homemaker, is not obliging by getting pregnant. Their mother is seen as distant and manipulative by her children, and their father’s infidelities are the worst kept secrets of the “society”. The “samaaj” of 60’s has been replaced by the society, but the story is as old as indian cinema: a family drama.
Yeah. This is a true blue family drama. Sounds disappointing, doesn’t it? There are times when it verges on melodrama, and the climax is a total contrivance. Worst transgression in my opinion is the voice over exposition. We didn’t need the voice telling us what we need to feel at the moment.
But this is not you friendly neighbourhood melodrama. This is drama proper. The parents, trapped by their own facade and the need for appearances, the the grown kids, still trapped by the expectations of their parents. This is a typical Zoya Akhtar film, and therefore its all about being true to yourself, and to the people you love. But mostly about yourself. It’s not selfish for you to run away from the responsibility of inheriting an empire, its selfish for them to expect you to.
And as much as this is an individualist manifesto, its also a feminist one. Because feminism, at its core, is all about respecting the female individual equally. The acidic barbs of the mother in law of Priyanka’s character and the condescending, insufferable boredom of her husband are so heart breaking without making them villains. (Except in one unnecessary scene near the end). Similarly the parents, so easily villainies, are simply people grappling with their own problems. Shefali Shah playing the mother steals scene after scene with her portrayal of a woman who’s domineering and vulnerable at the same time. Anil Kapoor is great at playing the man playing at being a patriarch. Petty, selfish, and used to have his way. His acting is pretty good but it’s made even better by his children’s response. Both, especially Priyanka, seem like kids when confronted with him. Beautiful acting. Priyanka only lets her body to relax with her brother and her old flame, played by Farhan in a surprisingly small role.
A film about gorgeous rich people grappling with petty rich people problems on a cruise seems like a limited, unappealing concept. It’s made broader by making it universal. The issues are not specific to the rich. This is universal precisely because it’s about the smallest unit: the individual.
The comparisons with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara are inevitable. Both occupy the same space, and that may be a problem. Farhan almost plays the same character in this, and Anushka is too similar to Katrina in the previous film. I compare this to Zoya’s debut, Luck By Chance and miss the delicious ending. But I can’t fail to delight in an intelligent story, brilliantly acted. This is an exquisite venture. Note the song Galla Pooriyan. It’s a single shot dance number with about a 100 moving people. I was mesmerized by it.
If her previous ventures were four star, this is distinctly three, three and a half. Gratification and disappointments are all about expectations. I kept looking for a rougher edge here, a sliver of quirk; and the best we got is a spectacled little girl with maybe four lines in the film. All of them brilliant. Bring her more centerstage, and push out the irritating pontification by the dog going on and on about how weird humans are. Then we’ll be talking about something remarkable.
So yes, to people expecting the world of Zoya Akhtar and the superb cast, this may be a slight disappointment. But this is not a failure. Not at all.