Acclaimed actor Seema Pahwa’s directorial debut is bustling with colourful characters, acerbic humour and rancour. Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi refers to the death rites of the patriarch of a Brahmin family in Lucknow. The sudden demise of Ram Prasad (Naseeruddin Shah) causes his two daughters, four sons and their children to return to their ancestral home. The occasion is sombre, their conduct anything but.
It’s a crowded house, filled with overlapping chatter, the endless clanking of tea cups and the opening of unhealed wounds and long-simmering resentments. The initial tears soon give way to grimaces as Ram Prasad’s descendants navigate their complicated feelings towards their departed father and their recently widowed mother Savitri (Supriya Pathak). It barely helps that by way of inheritance, Ram Prasad has saddled his brood with a huge debt.
Every character carries an axe that grinds away as well as injures the rest. Excuses for squabbles and barbs abound. The passive-aggressive question “When did you last meet our father” becomes a reliable way to test loyalty.
Three of the four brothers (Manoj Pahwa, Vinay Pathak and Ninad Kamat) are united in self-pity and divided by their specific problems. Their wives (Divya Jagdale, Deepika Amin, Sadiya Siddiqui) churn out meals and stir the pot with their scheming, which proves to be as futile as the solemn observance of the 13-day ritual period. Ram Prasad’s daughters-in-law also form a Macbethian trio and gang up against the youngest among them. Seema (Konkona Sen Sharma) has a tense relationship with her husband Nishant (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), and is doubly suspect for being both an actor and child-free.
The competition to be the best mourner begins soon after Ram Prasad’s sons arrive. Their righteous maternal uncle reminds them that he got there before them – round one to him.
The cousins treat the occasion as a family reunion. The question of who will take care of Savitri looms large, especially since nobody seems to want her, not even her own daughters. Now that we are finally together, I feel alone, she sighs.
If there ever was a case to be made for family planning, it is right here within the walls of Ram Prasad’s house, the vastness of which can barely contain the seething pettiness.
Some of the black humour appears forced, and the suggestion that “thank you” and “sorry” can mend deep-seated schisms isn’t quite convincing. Despite some confusion caused by the veritable zoo of people gallumphing about, Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi moves ahead on the strength of an outstanding cast.
It’s a testament to Seema Pahwa’s writing that despite a surfeit of characters, all actors stand out and have at least a couple of scenes to themselves. Their individual agonies are evenly spread out over the 112-minute narrative, which even makes room for a few songs.
The portraits of a flawed bunch of people yoked to each other by bonds of kinship survive the unwieldy structure and uneven pacing. Curdled blood ties are better than nothing, the movie hints, but it is also always alive to the individual spirit. Some members redeem themselves through simple acts of humanity, while others exit as they entered, grumpy until the last. The family isn’t dysfunctional as it is frighteningly normal.