Tuesday, 11 April 2017

At the BFI: "Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921)"

Despite the nod to tradition in its title, Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) forms an eminent example of New Bollywood: a dysfunctional family affair, now played out without a single sulphurous whiff of that thunderous melodrama enacted in the likes of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Two brothers - the straight-laced Rahul (Fawad Khan) and the wilder Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) - are recalled from overseas by news their grandfather has succumbed to a heart attack; upon returning to the family home, however, they find the stout old rogue (veteran Rishi Kapoor, having a whale of a time) more or less fine and the household beset by a different kind of cardiac crisis - the apparent foundering of their parents' marriage. What follows risks becoming Sundance-schematic, but writer-director Shakun Batra ensures that everything up to the shouting fits develops organically: pleasingly low-key location shooting helps, while the musical numbers tend more often than not to be treated as tipsy singalongs. Just as these are the squabbles real families might get into from time to time, these are the moves you and I might bust several glasses of prosecco into any other fraught reunion.

A major character revelation (and source of minor controversy upon the film's Indian release) comes to be granted no more fuss on screen than, for example, gramps' potsmoking and porno habit - because, as the underlying assumption would have it, it's not the sort of thing any truly enlightened and forward-thinking people should be making a fuss about in the first years of the 21st century. Trying to get the Kapoors to assemble for a family photo turns out to be a far bigger deal, and when a rainstorm hits, just as these blood relatives are starting to look at one another as though they were complete strangers, you can sense a certain conventionality creeping into the film's thinking: we're headed towards another affirmation of the family unit as profoundly flawed yet still the best social model we've got. The relaxed air and lightness of touch Batra demonstrates in socking home this message really do feel new, however, and he's found strong allies in Malhotra and Khan, capable young actors who make the disparate siblings' relationship both recognisable and finally very touching.

Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) screens in NFT3 on Fri 14 at 8.20pm, and again on Mon 17 at 2.15pm.

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