Director: Sudip Bandyopadhyay
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Aamir Bashir, Naveen Kasturia, Sajid Kabir, Sonali Kulkarni
I’m not sure what Hope Aur Hum is really about. I’m not sure Sudip Bandyopadhyay, the film’s first-time director, knows either. The one-liner might read: the Gorai-based Srivastava household of three generations…exists.
I can try to join the dots.
The film attempts to present each generation through a pet brand of existentialism. What do grandfathers live on? Nostalgia. What do middle-aged fathers want? Job satisfaction. What do young adults thrive on? Romanticizing. What do kids love and hate? Cricket and ghosts. Hence, we see old man Nagesh (Naseeruddin Shah) inextricably connecting his own relevance to the breakdown of his antique, German-manufactured copy machine; the “art” of life is over, he repeatedly complains.
We see his older son, Neeraj (Aamir Bashir), who is at a stage where his needs are fairly uncomplicated – he waits for that long-overdue promotion. We see his younger son, Nitin (Naveen Kasturia), visiting from Dubai and contriving to find love in the most fateful way possible: through a lost cell phone; “destiny” is his favourite term. We see the lively grandson (Sajid Kabir), whose passion for cricket is temporarily numbed by what he thinks is a ghost at a corner of his grandmother’s old haveli; the kid is too young to be depressed, but he makes quite a fist out of it.
Not for the first time in Hindi cinema, the only two aimless, dispensable characters in the film are the women – the housewife (Sonali Kulkarni) and a teen-aged daughter. All they do is tolerate, pacify, enable the men.
None of the narratives feed off each other in this bland “life is happening” kind of story. The problem lies in the writer’s insistence on spoon-feeding and overplaying each theme – especially the ‘old is gold’ sentiment, which, I could swear, is even said in so many words by a 60-something man when his vintage car breaks down. The house is filled with incessant reminders – a PlayStation for a kid who is weak in the playground, a Don Bradman book in the hands of a Virat Kohli fanatic, a haveli being developed into a hotel, an email sent to procure the part of an outdated machine, a Japanese device replacing an old-school German one, a couple letting technology define their “blind date,” and so on.
At one point, Nagesh has a long monologue with his copy machine; he bids goodbye to it and the shot cuts directly to the little boy at the back of a vintage car waving his goodbyes to his maternal grandmother in front of the soon-to-be-refurnished haveli. We get it. This tends to happen when Naseeruddin Shah is cast for a seemingly ordinary role; he is invariably deeper than the film he occupies. His presence is so thoughtful, so measured, that such films try to overcompensate by intellectualizing the psychology of the script.
His scenes with little Sajid Kabir, a spirited child actor, form the more organic parts of Hope Aur Hum. But Kabir is saddled with such a jarring, one-note trajectory – what’s with the obnoxious horror-movie sound effects? – that it becomes impossible to be patient with anyone except the veteran on screen.
Eventually there is nothing hum-worthy about this hopeful, but tediously designed, little film. If nothing, it is one of the first movies to truly acknowledge the modern era of Indian cricket; for once it’s Virat Kohli posters, and not Tendulkar ones, that embody the reverence of the country’s favourite sport. At the most, though, maybe one character’s conflict is worthy of a spin-off. The rest are best left on the faded copies of paper served out by this very German, very inanimate character. It’s a pity he isn’t mentioned in the cast list.