Two prodigal, NRI sons (Siddhalth Malhotra and Fawad Khan) return to India to tend to their ailing grandfather (Rishi Kapoor with heavy prosthetics) and resolve long-standing issues with their parents (Ratna Pathak and Rajat Kapoor). They also meet a cute girl along the way. That’s the story.
On paper, Kapoor & Sons is unquestionably just another product fresh off of Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions conveyor belt – the plotline of a dysfunctional family is pure Bollywood fodder, the songs are snappy and you can’t peel your eyes off of the beautiful cast members.
But rather than allow that to ever be a handicap, director Shakun Batra uses these tired old tropes to his advantage, reveling in and reanimating them. It’s a case of the student usurping the master; his mentor, producer Karan Johar, clearly only looks to one corner of Indian cinema for inspiration leaving his directorial work generic and stale while Batra’s work, while proudly rooted in Bollywood, has always contained faint touches of Independent cinema adding extra spices to the formulaic Masala mix. He especially mines foreign, realist filmmakers Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) and Zach Braff’s (Garden State) work for their flair for subtle human intimacy.
Kapoor & Sons is an intelligent, funny, fiercely fresh take on mainstream Hindi cinema with an eye on the past and another on the scary unforeseeable
Both Ek Main Aurr Ek Tu and Kapoor & Sons are in actuality beautiful reincarnations of Garden State – coming-of-age dramedies about wayward young men whose humdrum, bourgeois existence is disrupted by a larger-than-life muse. In Ek Main Aurr Ek Tu, that muse was Kareena, in Kapoor & Sons it’s Alia Bhatt. Alia is so wonderful here as Sidharth and Fawad’s life-affirming companion that she really makes you believe that she’s your special go-to friend; the one you love so much you’d overlook a lame joke they made and laugh anyway and the one who’s willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to console you when when you’re down. There’s not an ounce of disingenuity in her.
There’s not an ounce of disingenuity in her co-stars’ performances either. Even the once wooden Sidharth Malhotra reins in a palpable vulnerability here that is especially transparent in the confessional dining room table scenes.
It would be foolish to deny that Batra is the one who coaxed the best performances out of these young actors, performances that remarkably hold their own against Rishi Kapoor, who’s a barrel of laughs here and the reliably brilliant Ratna Pathak and Rajat Kapoor. But Fawad shines brightest. A Pakistani newcomer undertaking such a taxing , not to mention highly controversial role, in just his second Bollywood venture is a thing to applaud for.
Essentially, he’s laying a widely talked about social taboo in Pakistan out in the open for all to ogle at and ponder over. Pitchforks might be raised in the same way they were for Pakistani Big Boss contestant, Humaima Malik, but we get the sense that Fawad couldn’t care less. He’s doing his job with so much depth, grace and dignity that even his fellow countrymen might feel the need to concede.
This is not a perfect film, it’s the perfect Bollywood film; the puzzling, melodramatic detours it takes towards the end are off-putting but they are a part of Bollywood film lexicon and Batra knows that. He knows that although the Indian audiences of today, who have been exposed to all kinds of cinema, are looking for realness in their films, they’re also looking for familiarity. Batra offers them that with Kapoor & Sons, an intelligent, funny, fiercely fresh take on mainstream Hindi cinema with an eye on the past and another on the scary unforeseeable.