Bipin Nadkarni’s Darbaan begins in 1971, the year India’s coal mines were nationalised. Mine owners suffer a loss of wealth and status. The palatial mansion in which Naren (Harsh Chhaya) lives with his family and retinue of domestic workers slowly begins to empty out. Naren’s son Anukul, who goes to school in a Volkswagen convertible and has his own manservant, feels the loss too. Raicharan (Sharib Hashmi), who treats Anukul like his own son, suffers deeply from losing his Most Favoured Domestic status.

Many years later, Anukul, now all grown up and with a family of his own, rehires Raicharan to take care of his infant son. The always-happy-to-help Raicharan trots off, much to the dismay of his wife Bhuri (Rasika Dugal). A tragedy once again severs Raicharan from Anukul (Sharad Kelkar). The ensuing guilt shadows Raicharan’s relationship with his own son Siddhant (Yash Mistry).

The Zee5 original film is loosely based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore that has been adapted by the director and Rakesh Jadhav. Service and servitude are interchangeable in a story that hasn’t aged well. Raicharan’s devotion to his employers has its sincere moments, but the movie doesn’t provide enough of a psychological portrait that explains why Raicharan remains locked in this subservient mode. Also unexplored is Anukul’s desire to relive his childhood and replicate his father’s lost prestige.

Sharib Hashmi turns out a touching performance as the domestic worker who never quite stops being one. In a less dewy-eyed and more questioning film, Raicharan might have evolved into an interesting character, one who begins to question his loyalty to a feudal order. Raicharan barely changes over three generations, but Hashmi ensures that we stick by his side.

Darbaan (2020).