1st October 2020

Serious Men Review: The Rote To Education

Serious Men(Netflix)

Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui,Indira Tiwari,Nassar,Aakshath Das,Sanjay Narvekar,Shweta Basu Prasad

Directed  by Sudhir Mishra

Rating: ****

 It’s about memory retention, ratta maar ke.  The  boy-genius played with astonishing wisdom by Akshath  Das,is   really not a prodigy his father  is determined to prove him to be.

 It’s  a lethal mind-game that eventually leads to  monstrous tragedy, and only the father and  son are  supposed know about it.Nawazuddin Siddiqui over-ambitious patriarch’s act  will move , stir  and  terrify you.In what is arguably his  finest performance  to date,he  is chillingly real  in his  parental  paranoia , killingly clued-in  as  the Tamilian Dalit  Ayyan Mani  , a lowly assistant at a  science  institute researching on alien  microbes which  don’t exist. Never did. Just like his young son Adi’s prodigious mind.

An invention  of the modern  age wherein a non-existence idea acquires  authenticity by sheer repetition.So  repeat after me, director Sudhir Mishra is cinema’s equivalent  to the space scientist who  doesn’t  believe alien microbes  exist. But hell, that won’t stop him from looking.The way  Ayyan Mani  de-intellectualizes the  pursuit of intellectual  release, both  at his workplace  with his  boss(Nasser, as usual brilliant) and at home with his 10-year old son. is somehow paralleled  in Mani’s devious  mind.

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In order to  get anywhere in  life, one needs to  climb out of that  cubbyhole  karma has  created for each  one  of us.Right  from the beginning of  this scathing  take  on the cost that the caste factors extracts from those who  try to fight it(we needn’t go too far  off to  find out, just  try Hathras), Nawazuddin’s Ayyan  is  a Dalit man who  won’t take the  exploitation and  the  humiliation lying down.

 In an early sequence when Aayan  tries to argue his  way into a  school admission  for  his son, he plays with the  ‘backward’ card with a forwardness that confuses his  adversaries.Nawaz throws his  lines on  where to  draw the line between using and misusing  the caste card, like  a seasoned  fisherman who  throws his  net into the water unsure of his catch  but sure  that of  finding something to keep the home fire burning.

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 Manu Joseph’s novel is  not an easy work to adapt to  screen. There  is so much to be read between  the  lines.Sudhir Mishra’s  admirable screen adaptation  gives  voice to unspoken rebukes and  taunts  of  the  underprivileged  community whose dreams are  crushed under the wheel  of the Great Indian Arrogance.

As  an over-reacher Nawazuddin is in top form, filled with  an implosive rage  that builds up to a devastating climax. In a sequence like  the one where  he threatens his son’s  best friend into silence  , shot on  a roof terrace with pigeons and  angst  for company, Nawaz is  a bundle of nerves  ready to explode.

Where  the  film errs is  in not giving a  more definitive shape to the incidental characters such as  the wheeler-dealer politician’s daughter Anuja(Shweta Basu Prasad) who walks  around in  her  high heels with  a limp gifted to her   by her husband. Like her limp,she  doesn’t really fit in. This is  a father-son  conundrum that Nawaz and  his little co-star own like their home. Even Indira Tiwari as  Nawaz’s  film is peripheral  to  the  plot.But she makes up for it with a bludgeoning  outburst at  the end  that leaves Nawaz as crushed as  the audience.

Also Read:  Will Covid Kill The Theatre Business?

 Serious  Men  will leave you seriously wounded  for a while at last as  you think about how parents  thrust their dreams on  their children with devastating consequences.This is Sudhir Mishra’s best work in years.

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