Directed by Rahul V Chittella
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 Bajpayee 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 Bajpayee 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.