It has been the year of Soils and Light and Light-based Technologies for the United Nations, the year of the rabbit according to the Chinese zodiac, and the year of the “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” movie in Bollywood.
There was the official family flick, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, produced by the flame-keeper Rajshri Productions and packed with heart-warming messages about duty, piety and responsibility. And then there were other less misty-eyed titles that suggested that more families are dysfunctional than normal, unquestioning love for parents and siblings is self-limiting, and fathers and mothers can do damage rather than good.
The parade of basket-case fathers (and the odd mother) and put-upon sons (and the occasional daughter) include Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s Sanjay Mishra, NH10’s Deepti Naval, Brothers’ Jackie Shroff, Piku’s Amitabh Bachchan, Tamasha’s Javed Sheikh and Titli’s unnamed patriarch.
A particularly ugly aspect of family dynamics emerges in Nadveep Singh’s horror-tinged thriller NH10, in which an urbane couple encounters the practice of honour killing in Haryana. Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ha Haisha was billed as an oddball romantic comedy between a thin man and his overweight bride, but the movie’s heart lies in the acutely observed portrayal of the extended families that forcibly yoke these disparate souls together.
Several films examined the primary social unit with depth, honesty and perspicacity. In Shoojit Sircar’s Piku, the tensions of a single daughter putting her life on hold to care for her part-ailing and part-hypochondriac father emerge through the crowd-friendly touches, including A-listers in key roles, comic situations and uplifting songs. In Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, affluence, education and a highly evolved fashion sense cannot save the Mehras from near implosion. Kanu Behl’s Titli dispenses with all niceties: the family is the unmistakable villain in his movie about a young man who plots his escape from carjacking brothers. Only by destroying the family from within can the titular protagonist start anew.
Even Brothers, the mostly unwatchable Indian remake of the Hollywood mixed martial arts drama Warrior, throws a few punches in favour of the idea that children can be marred and scarred for life by the actions of their fathers.
The year’s biggest hits included two formulaic movies powered by the unstoppable Salman Khan juggernaut, and positive family values were largely responsible for their success. Khan’s character in Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan becomes the surrogate father to a mute girl from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, while in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, he is the glue that holds together his feuding and feudal unit.
Leo Tolstoy’s observation “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” unfolded on the screen in expected and unexpected ways. Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar makes the case for a more balanced view of the parents deemed as monsters by the law and order machinery and the media. Based on the 2008 double murders of Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj Banjade, Talvar persuasively argues that the characters based on Aarushi’s parents, Rajesh and Nupur, could not have committed the crimes. Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw tackles issues of disability and sexuality, and boldly re-imagines the family unit. Can a wheelchair-bound bisexual woman living with cerebral palsy find happiness in the arms of her visually impaired lesbian lover?
In 2015, she could.