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Gulmohar Is A Bit Of  A Mess, But Moving Nonetheless





Directed by Rahul V  Chittella

Rating: ** ½

Rahul V Chittella has worked  extensively with  Mira Nair. It shows in his debut film. Gulmohar is like Mira’s Monsoon Wedding without a wedding, or for that matter, even a semblance monsoonal bliss.

There is  a peculiar sterility and joylessness about the  characters , scattered and rudderless even as  they speak repeatedly about keeping the family together, they seem  to have little  interest  in actually sharing the same roof.

Chittella  and his co-writer Arpita Mukherjee  spread  out the plot onto a wafer-thin canvas. For such a tediously skimpy  scenario to come alive, one needed a  more dedicated  storytelling and  performances.  Tragically the  actors seldom get a chance  to have  a say, let alone cohere  in a familial clasp.

This family doesn’t believe in  group  hugs.The matriarch  Kusum  Batra(Sharmila  Tagore)  makes much out  of  keeping the family together. But she makes little  effort to find out where the erosion in their togetherness originates  from, .

There are no bad  people in the  Batra  family.The plot desperately searches for  a scapegoat  in the domestic mess.Kusum’s brother-in-law Sudhakar  (Amol Palekar) is  ultimately  designated the  villain  of the piece. He tells it like it is  is. I for one,saw merit in Sudhakar accusing Kusum of swigging brandy while the  family  falls apart.

While many of the characters suffer  for the wont of   webocracy which allows an inflow  of  characters  without justification, the primary  characters are  almost uniformly shown as  perennial whiners.A  silly twist in the plot where a  secret will is  discovered, has even Manoj Bajpai sobbing in selfpity.Simran as  his wife  tries  to be  a pillar  of strength. We can see her nerves are on edge, and we  know exactly how  she  feels.

Manoj Bajpai  is  the only actor who  makes a  valiant effort  to hold the dissipated family , and by extension the film., together. His emotional  collapse signals  a similar  fate  for the storytelling.

There is  so much going on in the screenplay, the spectator is  left breathless .One of girls in the family is a lesbian. Grandma Sharmila Tagore sees the girl holding hands with another girl, immediately  approves  of the relationship and goes into a quick flashback about how she  liked a girl when she was younger.

I wondered if she was making  up that  story just to support the lesbian in  the family.But I quickly banished that thought: neither Kusum  nor the film is smart enough  to think up  such an idea.

Elsewhere, there is a  promising  but again, pointless subplot about a domestic staff(Jatin Goswami, excellent) and his silent  love for the  house help(Shanti  Balachandran). I would like an independent  film on their affair. It is  more interesting than anything in the Batra family.

The  one thing that  Gulmohar makes us thankful for is that no one  mentions the  ‘d’ word.Dysfunctional, the Batra  family may  be. But functional is  the new dysfunctional  in  our cinema.

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