Director: Leena Yadav
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Anirudh Tanwar, Amyra Dastur, Aparshakti Khurana, Manurishi Chadha
Streaming On: Netflix
Rajma Chawal, if viewed beyond its desperation to fit in like a drunken uncle at a Miley Cyrus concert, is about the creepiest father in the history of bad fathers. It’s unfortunate that Rishi Kapoor, otherwise the gold standard of middle-class North Indian movie patriarchs, is the man behind this role. He is Chandni Chowk’s Mr. Mathur – a widower who, in an effort to improve his equation with his troubled son (Anirudh Tanwar, as Kabir), thinks it is a fine idea to catfish the boy by chatting with him under the fake Facebook identity of an attractive young lady. I repeat: he forges a heterosexual (platonic, sure – in Delhi) bond with his own son by using the defunct profile of a ‘homely’ girl.
To further contextualize this twisted premise: the man’s wife just died, and the boy is single. While you mull over that, let me also mention that Mathur, at some point after realizing that the real girl (Amyra Dastur) is in on his grand idea, actually bribes her to keep the scam going. Basically, he pays a girl to love his son. On an unrelated note, debutant Anirudh Tanwar’s father is one of the film’s producers.
I get that it’s cute to watch old-school folks embrace the fast ways of the digital world. It’s sweet to see them employ a newer language to dilute the generational discord. But it’s one thing to romanticize their ignorance on screen; it’s another when the makers themselves are those ignorant folks. With Rajma Chawal, Leena Yadav (Parched, Teen Patti, Shabd) joins the long list of antiquated Indian filmmakers whose patronizing gaze of the country’s “youth” is limited to promiscuity, bad haircuts, Sufi rock bands and, you guessed it, social media mechanisms. The stereotypes aren’t entirely misguided, but the older cartel of storytellers needs to understand that there is a marked difference between depicting modernity from a traditional perspective and interpreting modernity as a legitimate sociocultural truth. Here, too, Yadav treats it as more of a strange “condition” – one that the elders take upon themselves to decode so that there is two-way communication. She delves into the psychology of ‘coolness’ with the cocksure aura of an adult indulging the Instagram generation rather than exploring it.
The film, right from its first few minutes, is hell-bent on advertising the old-new divide: The Mathurs literally shift from New Delhi to Old Delhi, a grandmother insists on taking a selfie, the boy uses a spoon to downgrade the traditionalism of the titular dish, the adults discuss what LOL is supposed to mean, Kabir is always seen sporting large headphones, he eats wafers while his father gorges on samosas, he cringes on hearing the ‘earthy’ sounds of a local band, he becomes a Youtube sensation (because Junoon wannabes go ‘viral’ these days), his father trades in an ancient Nokia for a smartphone, we see characters speaking through their profile pictures, and so on and so forth. Not to mention the girl, Seher, a Meerut-born runaway with a torrid history, a nose-ring, a weird haircut, hipster tattoos (the one on her neck looks like a barcode sticker), and a rich Jatt boyfriend whose hot-headed abusiveness is viewed as an endearing and funny character trait because baby-faced Aparshakti Khurana is the actor.
It’s safe to assume that Kabir is messed up and morose because his father is a compulsive liar and a borderline pervert surrounded by clueless old family members (What is a Delhi movie without the measured bonhomie of Manu Rishi and Brijendra Kala?). Kabir might do well to use the cocktail of cocaine and tragic memories to numb the pain of occupying a household in which morality is about as relevant as a tattoo of an ex-lover. It’ll take me a few years to tuck into a nice plate of Rajma-chawal without being haunted by images of a man unknowingly flirting with his father over the phone while sharing the same breakfast table. It’s also safe to assume that perhaps the greatest irony of this film is that it will stream on Netflix, a leading digital platform.