Director: Umesh Shukla
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Jimit Trivedi
Umesh Shukla's 102 Not Out is based on a play. Unfortunately, it's made like one too. The background score serves as the audience laughter and tear cues, the outdoor shots are replete with cutaways of onlookers (you know the faces inserted in between public showdowns to prove that random Bombay folks don't just stop to watch a scene, they also get emotionally invested in it?), and the stars in the sky resemble malfunctioning LED screens. There is no evidence of film – an audiovisual medium – furthering the essence of the writer's vision. This isn't of considerable surprise. If some of Karan Johar's grandiose early movies were adapted to fit the verbose dimensions of amateur stage productions, the result might have been Umesh Shukla's socially desperate filmography.
This is not just in context of his work's distinctly unimaginative "look". The India twenty years ago was in need of a different brand of transitional commentary; the middle-class India today should ideally be exposed to a world beyond parochial Gujarat-isms and stubborn heritage porn. For example, in his previous film, All Is Well (2015), Shukla made a sanitized mess out of the 'It's all about loving your family' template by propagating generational unity over modern evolution and individuality. Under the guise of a confused comedy, the estranged son (Abhishek Bachchan) compromises on his "unorthodox" music career to reinvigorate the family bakery and support his ailing parents. In 102 Not Out, Shukla extends his young-hating traditionalism by designing a goofy update of Ravi Chopra's Baghban out of Saumya Joshi's eponymous Gujarati play.
In pursuit of a superficially noble message of parental independence, he employs personality and age – Rishi Kapoor plays the 'boring' 75-year-old son (Babu) of a 'cool' 102-year-old Amitabh Bachchan (Dattatraya) – as commercial gimmicks to unintentionally highlight the country's greatest cultural drawback: the sense of obligation.
Yes, it is perhaps a nice thought that spunky old timers don't need to depend on their children to get by. But, as in the case of Babu's America-settled son, is it necessary to portray those children as money-grabbing, ungrateful deflectors who moved away and failed to fulfill their caretaking "duties"? Much of Babu's depression is down to a feeling of betrayal – betrayal that his son dared to dream, build a life and refused to return. On the outside, much like Piku, Babu may look like an uptight 'adult' who needs a lesson or two about chilling out.
But unlike in Shoojit Sircar's perceptive father-daughter film, Bachchan's character here is well meaning but gloriously self-righteous. In short, he is as Gujarati as they come. Instead of recognizing this as a flaw, the makers propagate it as a solution. He wants to play God by 'improving' his khadoos son – another gimmick with zero resolution: he threatens to send Babu to a retirement home – without realizing that perhaps all these years of caring for an irresponsible man-child of a father is what has turned Babu into a frowning Gandhian hypochondriac. It seems to be lost upon the makers that the two men at the center of an allegedly progressive picture are actually the heroes by virtue of their regressive, expectation-laced mindsets.
To tell the neglected story of the 'other' side, though, maybe those like Shukla need to move beyond populist, sitcom-style setups. It is easier to concoct a vegetarian tale by hiding behind the considerable statures of Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan – Hindi cinema stars who seem to be more than happy being paraded as shiny objects of nostalgia
The son could have well been a regular, restless, Vile-Parle-East-resenting kid who just wanted to get away – notice a flaky Bunny's (Ranbir Kapoor) gentle, selfless father (the late great Farooq Shaikh) in Ayan Mukerji's Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, who insists that the boy travels, spreads his wings and lives his life without any crippling sense of obligation. I'm quite certain that if the movie were solely about that father, Bunny wouldn't be painted in broad strokes as an all-out, Mohnish-Bahl-style villain (here, the son even has the silver-streaked sideburns of yesteryear baddies). Surely, there are more sensitive ways of subverting the tropes of Indian seniority and validating the concept of spirit. Shukla, obviously, finds it easier to generalize the gist of his theme through black-and-white caricatures.
To be fair, I don't think 102 Not Out was ever conceived as a complex, coming-of-old-age drama. I might be opinionated about its undertones because I belong to the generation many of these films condescend upon to target the saas-bahu-loving family homes; younger directors like Mukerji empathize with us on a more existential level without servicing the urge to be reductive about a different section of society. To tell the neglected story of the 'other' side, though, maybe those like Shukla need to move beyond populist, sitcom-style setups. It is easier to concoct a vegetarian tale by hiding behind the considerable statures of Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan – Hindi cinema stars who seem to be more than happy being paraded as shiny objects of nostalgia.
It's not so much the iffy accents – Babu and his pop in fact, being born-and-bred Bombay Gujaratis, speak a justifiably ambiguous version of Hindi, while their young friend (Jimit Trivedi; exists only so that the two men can narrate backstories to us without breaking the fourth wall) has an authentic accent because he is a recent immigrant. It's more about the aura of Kapoor and Bachchan; the two acting legends are so recognizable and enthusiastic under the weak makeovers that it becomes impossible to view them as anything but bickering brothers. For this reason, the father-son device falls flat for a large part, while the sentimentally charged scenes particularly bring out the booming Bachchan-monologue baritone and theatrical Kapoor glare – trademarks that remind us of a film unwilling to rise above the playful tag of a casting coup.
I suspect that this is the kind of average fare that relies on who its viewers are. Many parents might choose to overlook the flimsiness and view this as a winning unbeaten century in a chase. I'm not so sure others may look at it the same way. After all, if an opening batsman scores 102 Not Out in the first innings of an ODI match, it's more likely that the knock is slow, selfish, self-defeating and bereft of awareness.