By: Samar Khan
Going into Kapoor and Sons, people had reason to be worried. It was a Karan Johar film, which almost 15 years ago would have meant that it would be an instant classic. Due to his recent missteps over the last decade, however (Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and Bombay Velvet anyone?), the most popular Bollywood director in recent memory has lost some of the credibility associated with his name and his production studio, Dharma Productions.
Thankfully, Kapoor & Sons was more a Shakun Batra film than a Karan Johar one but one that helps elevate the latter back into the upper echelon. Kapoor & Sons, ladies, and gentlemen, is family drama at its absolute best and easily the best Bollywood movie of 2016 so far.
Rishi Kapoor as Daddu in Kapoor & Sons
The story is simple and appropriately so. It is the tale of two brothers, Rahul (played by the magnificent Fawad Khan) and Arjun (played by rising heartthrob Sidharth Malhotra), who are plying their trades in entirely separate situations in London and New Jersey respectively. Rahul is the one with a burgeoning career as a novelist, whilst his younger brother is still struggling to find his footing. Cue a phone call from their family about their ill grandfather Daddu (in a show stealing performance by Rishi Kapoor), they head home only to encounter simmering tension between their parents, Sunita (played by the underrated Ratna Pathak in an understated and measured performance) and Harsh (Rajat Kapoor). When I mention that the family is dysfunctional, I do not mean in the sense one expects from a sitcom. Rather, this is a family that is not afraid to question each other openly and is even less hesitant to chuck jars of cookies at one another’s heads. Coming from the cookie cutter nonsense that was Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale, Kapoor & Son’s grounded dramedy style of family dysfunction was a refreshing change of pace. In easier terms: the story is simple but the excellent type of simple, the one that makes it easy for audiences of all ages to relate yet is still dark enough to be geared primarily towards older audiences.
The scripting was sublime, with the film not suffering from overuse of melodrama (hello, Neerja) nor from poorly implemented comic relief segments in between scenes of serious drama that didn’t require it (Airlift was a major offender in this regard). Where the script excelled, however, was in its ability to allow every single member of the family to have appropriate amounts of screen and story time, enough to satisfy the audience’s desire to see their story play out and end in a way that wasn’t cheap and/or rushed.
Sidharth Malhotra as Arjun in Kapoor & Sons
This was easily the best part of this review to pen, as it allows me to highlight exactly what made each character so special without delving too far into spoiler territory. We’ll begin with the relative newcomer to the Bollywood scene, Fawad Khan. To say he has taken Bollywood by storm since his arrival is an understatement; it’s a testament to his charisma and talent that he’s managed a Disney film (the gorgeous Khoobsurat was an underrated gem of 2014) and a Karan Johar film within his first few years on the scene. His performance as Rahul was exactly as measured and filled with justttt enough angst and anger to make you understand what makes Khan such a special breed of actor. Whether it be portraying a son shocked at finding out about a certain someone’s infidelity or a brother on the receiving end of a beating due to a misunderstanding, Khan was well-cast and brought his character to life in a way few could have. Upon the reveal of a major plot twist towards the final act of the film, the audience marveled at how understated his performance was that all the clues were there telegraphing the reveal yet Khan managed to mesmerize with his acting prowess and allow audiences to still marvel at the twist.
Moving on from Khan, we move on to Sidharth Malhotra. He’s mainly been restricted to some fairly average films thus far in his career but Kapoor & Sons was the first film that allowed him to showcase his true range and he made it count. Similar to his co-star Khan, Malhotra excelled at everything on the spectrum of acting, whether it be as someone with a burning curiosity inside of him or someone that feels unloved and neglected by those he feels should be there for him at all times. Malhotra has moved up the ranks in my “Actors to watch” list for his efforts here, as it’s obvious that when he is provided with a script and character that plays to his strengths, he can put forth a performance that one can actually marvel at. Kudos to the rising star.
Supporting the two leads are the absolutely outstanding trio of the aforementioned Rishi Kapoor, Rajat Kapoor, and Ratna Pathak Shah. Kapoor is the real standout amongst this trio (some could even argue he was the standout of the entire film) with his 90-year-old character similarly called upon to provide a vast array of emotional scenes and he delivers in spades. Despite early concerns about the aging makeup added to the Bollywood legend, Kapoor makes audiences forget that he is, in fact, wearing such makeup and dazzles with his portrayal of a man that realizes he has little time left and just wishes to see his family happy and near his side for possibly the final time. Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah are almost equally as delightful as a wary married couple, with the latter accusing her husband of infidelity and their feuds being both comical and serious, yet never venturing into “utterly absurd” territory. If you all do decide to watch the film, go in expecting a family of 5 that sees each member amaze you in their own respective ways.
If there was a weak link to the story, it concerns the story of Alia Bhatt’s character Tia. Bhatt has been earning a lot of – deserved- praise from audiences and reviewers alike but unfortunately for the actress, her character felt at times as if it was just shoehorned in so as to provide a love story. It is Bollywood, so that shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise to most people.
Fawad Khan as Rahul and Alia Bhatt as Tia in Kapoor & Sons
This was a mixed bag, for a few reasons. On the one hand, for the story that was being told, a simplistic (simplicity was a theme throughout, as I’m sure you have picked up) soundtrack was the right decision as it allowed the story and characters to take screen-time from pointless song-and-dance routines. On the other hand, it was a Bollywood movie that still found ways to add songs in. While said songs were of consistently competent quality throughout, they didn’t add or detract to the experience and were just there. The score itself, though, as in the sound overlaying scenes and signifying scene transitions and all that jazz, was very well put-together, complementing a film that itself was very well put-together.
Before I leave this section, I do wish to give a special shout out to one song in the film that I thought was worthy of our readership’s attention: Saathi Rey by Arko. It’s not often that someone manages to put out the best song in a film that also contains a song sung by Arijit Singh (Bolna was pretty good as it stands) but Saathi Rey shines for how it was used in the film and the lyrics its accompanying vocals that comprise it. Seriously, give it a go and drop your feedback to us.
Ratna Pathak Shah as Sunita and Rajat Kapoor as Harsh in Kapoor & Sons
One aspect that was very much appreciated by co-reviewer Muneeb Arshid and those around us in the audience was the film’s camerawork. It had a very natural feel to it as if it was filmed by someone adept at using a normal handheld camera. It felt very simplistic, which further added to the film and lent it an air of authenticity. It was a wise decision on the part of Shakun Batra and co. to use such a setup, as it didn’t overwhelm the audience with needless visual quirks and provided the right amount of focus and crystal clear quality.
Kapoor & Sons takes the best of family dysfunction films from Bollywood, sprinkles in some modern issues and allows a cast that rises to the occasion to steer the reins. It was a bold film and one that is easily recommended to anyone looking for a great time at the movies. The run time seems a tad long (clocking in at ~ 135 minutes) but it’s a testament to those on screen and behind the camera that it never feels as if it drags; rather, the film could have been longer and no one would have complained. Again, the film is highly recommended.
We at the Film Lawyers are proud to grace Kapoor & Sons with a grade of B+ (8.4/10).