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Film Review: Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921)

 

Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921) has ranked as the highest grossing Bollywood film in America so far this year and is currently ranked as the 22nd most popular film in box office takings. The industry’s trend for a three-hour marathon of chorus renditions and slick choreography has evolved into classier storytelling, with sumptuous cinematography and clever casting. 

This black comedy is a tour-de-force, looking at universal family issues like sibling rivalry, bereavement and infidelity along with estrangement from grandchildren. 

As the new world economic order continues to displace family members globally, we find Rathul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) living in America until Grandpa Kapoor (“Dadu”) has a heart attack and they travel back to their childhood home in Coonoor, India. 

This geographical separation has brought about emotional distance. Dadu’s last wish is a happy family photo of the three generations of Kapoors. Sounds simple in theory but in reality, this family has been harbouring secrets and resentments and they all start feuding before the jet lag has worn off. 

Rathul is a successful writer, the apple of his parents’ eye, whilst Arjun is the struggling writer, holding down two jobs to make ends meet. They fall for the same local girl, Tia Malik (Alia Bhatt), and it isn’t long before punches are being thrown and long-standing jealousies reverberate through the quiet, idyllic rural Indian village. 

The family dynamics are further complicated by dwindling finances, allegations of infidelity and dreams of mid-life career changes. Harsh Kapoor (Rajat Kapoor) and Sunita Kapoor (Ratna Pathak) are a struggling middle-aged couple, bickering and counter-bickering; essentially sleep-walking towards separation. 

Sunita dreams of opening her own catering business, but unsupported by her husband and sleeping separately, she responds by accusing him of cheating on her. The clashes become more melodramatic and that happy, smiling family photo seems like a wish that will never be granted.

The star of the film is Grandpa Kapoor, (Rishi Kapoor), who at the young age of 63, spends hours in prosthetics to become the ageing 90 year-old maverick head of the household. Rishi Kapoor is a seasoned actor, with hilarious comic timing, annoying his dysfunctional family members with mock heart attacks and impromptu references to pornography from his hospital bed. 

His zest for life infects and infuriates in equal measure but his simple wish for a happy family photo takes on a symbolic quest for family unity.

In recent years there has been a steady departure from heterosexual relationships in Bollywood, towards more than a passing nod to the taboo subject of homosexuality. The first Indian gay kiss in the film, “Dunno Y Na Jaane Kyun” (2010) tested Indian audience sensibilities and Kapoor and Sons also looks at the difficulties of coming out as a gay Indian. Rather than a tokenistic gay Indian film though, the quest for gay acceptance is contextualised within everyday family life. 

A beautiful, life-affirming 132-minute film where Bollywood substitutes song and dance for a hard-hitting look at family life.

Written by Liz Dickinson

 

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