Bengali hit-makers Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee have made a Hindi version of their 2017 film Posto, perhaps to test the temperature for their kind of cinema in Mumbai.
Shastry Viruddh Shastry has topicality – the reliance on grandparents by urban working couples for free and safe childcare – and pan-Indian casting on its side. The film takes a Caucasian Chalk Circle kind of conundrum, when a boy becomes a bone of contention between his parents and grandparents.
With Yaman (Kabir Pahwa) being cared for in Panchgani by his grandparents Manohar (Paresh Rawal) and Urmila (Neena Kulkarni), Malhar (Shiv Panditt) and his wife (Mimi Chakraborty) are able to pursue their demanding careers in Mumbai. They visit every other weekend and find the child healthy and brimming with affection. Mallika does express apprehensions about Yaman’s excessive pampering, but is dismissed. There is already some strain in the relationship between Malhar and his father over unresolved emotional baggage from the past.
When Malhar gets a dream offer to relocate to the United States, the elder Shastrys do not want to let go of Yaman and disrupt his comfortable life. There is just a little hint that Yaman, perceptive as kids sometimes are, subtly manipulates both couples to his advantage – the coddling by the grandparents (Urmila even brushes his teeth) and guilty gifting by the absentee parents.
Shastry is portrayed as an old-school patriarch, used to having his way. Malhar’s insistence on taking away his son leads him to filing a case to demand Yaman’s legal guardianship. In the pro- and anti-arguments before a bemused judge (KK Raina), the lifestyle and attitudinal differences in parenting between two generations are presented. Both sides are balanced in the script (by the directors and Anu Singh Choudhary).
Manohar’s lawyer is his senior citizen friend (Manoj Joshi), who is contemptuous of the younger generation. Malhar is represented by a young, shark-like woman (Amruta Subhash) who believes that the older generation stifle their children. The film presents both sides cogently and leaves the viewer as confused as the judge about which side to pick. As Mallika says at one point – and this is not given adequate attention – why is the mother’s point of view not even taken into account?
Hindi cinema has either demonised or deified the patriarch. Shastry Viruddh Shastry perhaps says that the era of the distant, inflexible father is drawing to an end, but until a workable model for the perfect dad – and the lax Malhar is not it – is created, kids will be tossed around and mothers will have to put up with it.
Paresh Rawal plays the older Shastry with the air of a man who is just discovering his inner softness after years of glowering his family into submission. There is a stiffness in his manner, but also unexpected tenderness towards Yaman. Shiv Panditt has the tough task of matching up to that intensity, which he manages in a couple of scenes. The film may have stretched material doesn’t have substance for 140 minutes, but it also makes valid points.