Mayank Shekhar's Review: We are Family

By Hindustan Times

Director: Siddharth P Malhotra
Actors: Kajol, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal
Rating: **

It’s this thing about soppy chick flicks, or afternoon soppy soap operas, if you will. The male character is destined to severe step-mom treatment. If he’s present at all, he usually has no say in his own destiny. He quietly follows nature’s will. Humour is generally scarce. This fits in well with the female worldview, perhaps (okay, that’s a joke!). It doesn’t help include varied audiences.

Arjun Rampal plays that muted, pointless gent in this movie adapted from Chris Columbus’s Stepmom (1998). To be fair, Rampal gets better playtime in the Indian adaptation. And he also looks suitably dishy for his target audience, as We Are Familyagainst a bald, old, divorced, charmless Ed Harris, who’s in with a girl (Julia Roberts) hotter than his vintage, in the Hollywood version.

Rampal’s the “strong, silent types”, who tells his girlfriend (Kareena), “Never say, I love you. It (the love) goes away.” The scene appears early on in the film. It’s a sweet promise of subtlety, hardly met by the movie thereafter. Unfortunately.

The leading man also has an alternate family: a divorced wife (Kajol), two daughters, and a son, who seems pretty low on the brat-quotient, ‘feminised’ perhaps in the company of women. Their mother is terminally ill. The kids are introduced to the dad’s young, sassy girlfriend they’re unlikely to accept, given the obvious circumstances. They call her D, short for daayan (witch), rather rustic nickname from children born and raised in Australia!

The setting is the sanitised First World. Spaghetti's ready for supper. Aesthetics of modern, good housekeeping is established. As it is, for most urban Hindi films by now. The women (Kajol, Kareena) the film centres on, arguably make for the brightest big screen Bollywood talents. The shots are tightly clean.

It’s just the idea that binds all these together, which is entirely outsourced from the West. So is an Elvis hit, with lyrical Hindi additions that go: “Main toh bhool gayi kya wordings thi (I forgot what the words were), something something, Jailhouse Rock!” Jesus knows this Indian poverty (of imagination) is not new. This film is merely its rare, official acknowledgement. The producers have suitably paid for the copyrights. They’re not sneakily thieving this time! There may be hundreds of original local writers waiting for a medium to express something of their own, through the nation’s top leading ladies, no less. But then, creative laziness is not a moviegoer’s concern. The film is. English movie-rental, or Indian readymade remake: who cares?

A warm, doting single mother, losing before her eyes, her life and her sweet children to fatal cancer, you can tell, is something that’ll weep any woman off her feet. The premise is stuff dry tissues are made for. Yet, the pathos here is produced not from moments, but from performances alone: a stunning Kajol’s in particular. She appears superior to Susan Sarandon, I suspect, because the corny background score here, unlike the quietness of the original, rarely allows for sheer drama to take over. She also cannot quite place her family in the fakeness around, which can’t be concealed in candyfloss anymore. This ain't Archie Andrews.

This is an Indian family drama over a dying single mom. Most such families would have a support stream of parents, uncles, aunties, many other relatives, pooling in at this tragedy. The mom’s hip, self-sufficient, in control, alone; despite an ex, and his hot girlfriend. The children look lost. This cultivated suaveness is but suddenly forgone as everybody begins to simultaneously weep from the screen. The heroine morphs into the image of the desi mother, in a saree, hoping the best for her daughter’s grand wedding after her death. Bollywood dhol beats hit the crescendo. Filmmakers hope you’ll hear the lady behind you go, sob sob sob… Hmmm.

Columbus discovered America in the 15th century. But he mistook it for India. Over 500 years later, in a film originally directed by Columbus, the confusion between the two cultures (and countries) still persist. Huh. It’s only fair!

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