Director: Milind Dhaimade
Cast: Barun Sobti, Shahana Goswami, Vishal Malhotra, Avinash Tiwary, Nakul Bhalla, Jay Upadhyay, Rasika Dugal, Maanvi Gagroo
There is not enough space in Mumbai for its people to notice their differences. One is the literal medium of space – the matchbox flats, shackled schools, cramped streets, claustrophobic buses and trains, non-existent fields, overpopulated offices. Put enough humans into this horizontally challenged routine every day, and a desperate battle for survival becomes a "comfort zone" of sorts. Which is why certain specifics – the characters' choice of professions, for example – aren't highlighted extensively in Tu Hai Mera Sunday. For better or worse, everyone is an equal on an overflowing station platform.
But it's the second kind of space that Milind Dhaimade's little film beautifully explores. A headspace that is rarely our own – and one that is inextricably linked to the aforementioned physical struggle. In fact, being bogged down by the city feels like a proud badge of citizenship – you are not a true Mumbaikar if you can breathe the air of normal civilization, or if you can breathe at all. Expectations are painfully modest: give us that free Sunday, a vague football/cricket ground and enough bodies, and a million Mondays become worth enduring.
Dhaimade's understanding of this city's fragile middle-class dynamics is what elevates his seemingly lighthearted film into a profound zone: take away that Sunday football session, and most of us have nowhere to hide
There is no time to choose these companions – like thirsty prisoners on parole determined to make the most out of this legal day-long jailbreak. Cultural diversity and lifelong connections are merely accidental byproducts of this diminished lifestyle. For instance, except for old college buddies Arjun (Barun Sobti) and Rashid (Avinash Tiwary), the other three in the Sunday Juhu-football group – Parsi bawa Mehernosh (Nakul Bhalla), Gujju bhai Jayesh (Jay Upadhyay) and Goan 'maakapao' Dominic (Vishal Malhotra) – seem like ragtag additions who perhaps had nowhere else to go. They must have joined as strangers, one by one, without even noticing each other's surnames. The only religion they recognize is freedom. Their friendship is almost incidental and necessary, because it guarantees a shared escape from their torrid weeks.
But Dhaimade's understanding of this city's fragile middle-class dynamics is what elevates his seemingly lighthearted film into a profound zone: take away that Sunday football session, and most of us have nowhere to hide. The balance is that delicate. These characters – whose introductions lull us into expecting a stereotypical, broad comedy – are then forced to look inward and examine their own "lack of space".
After all, without a football it's just a bunch of running men unable to make sense of giant goalposts. Suddenly, their flaws are out in the open – IIM-Berkeley Arjun's underachieving escape from corporate drudgery, Rashid's womanizing as a product of religious discrimination, Mehernosh's horrible office boss, Jayesh's crippling family responsibilities and resentful Domi's younger-sibling volatility.
Despite budgetary constraints, Dhamade effortlessly switches between the milieus of these narrative worlds. We see a bit of Delhi when Arjun's story unfolds, a bit of Hyderabad with Rashid, a bit of new Amdavad with Jayesh, a little of Konkan with Domi and some of old Gujarat with Mehernosh – all of which cumulatively amounts to a typical snapshot of Bombay (translated areas: Lokhandwala, Mahim, Vile Parle, Orlem and Byculla). Each of them is designed to occupy a coming-of-age drama of their own, and except for an older Jayesh's case (he has no "real" young-adult problems as such, which is why he internalizes theirs), it's a woman that disrupts their robotic despair.
And it's ironic that the device that triggers this existential domino effect is a character whose mind has long retired from this race. Shiv Subramaniam is fantastic as a dementia-afflicted old uncle. One can sense he is the lifelong "consequence" of the stress-castles these five are currently occupying: a cautionary tale sent back in time to rescue those headed for his fate. Arjun immediately sympathizes with the lost man's condition (thereby becoming the "protagonist" of the five) and – true to the city's flexible spirit – involves him in their beach game before returning him to his worried daughter (Shahana Goswami, as Kavya). "Uncle," a liability for most, becomes the unintentional cause of the group's fresh problems – they are forced to exit their comfort zones and find new football spaces after being banned from the beach.
But it was much more than just a Sunday game; it was an outlet for their frustrations, a pillow for their muffled screams. And, very appropriately, as the film progresses through their distinctive individual situations, we see four separate public meltdowns during four quintessentially "Mumbai" activities – at an office, airport, quarter bar and a Goa trip. These are essentially the four stages of life here: work, commute, drink, escape. But what's significant is the way the filmmaker handles these serious outbursts.
We've been conditioned to expect theatrical results (death, suicides, exile) from cinematic implosions; the sight of an unpredictable ticking-bomb character makes us expect the worst on screen. But this film treats the bouts of insanity for what they are – a "moment". More often than not, this mood fizzles out, and the tension diffused by a lame joke or awkward banter. And life just goes on. If anything, the madness feels therapeutic.
Tu Hai Mera Sunday is what I'd call a feel-good tragedy. All of us are forced to accept – and find some solace and silver linings in – our abusive relationship with this city
Another example of mainstream subversion is the Arjun-Kavya equation. Treated like just another budding love story, its conflict is surprisingly mundane and lifelike – the boy's shyness, the girl's impatience – without any earth-shattering frills. In fact, the one time Arjun decides to act like a "film," inspired by his chanting buddies, he is unceremoniously shut down: akin to a hero being arrested at Security Check instead of stopping the heroine from boarding the airplane. This is peculiar to watch, but entirely relatable, given that it involves a whipped big-city heart unable to recognize a "moment" if not surrounded by crisis and chaos.
All the actors deserve credit for they chemistry the share, not least because they occupy an orthodox storytelling template – songs, emotions, laughter, road-trips, tears – that could have so easily been generic Bollywood rather than Bombay.
Tu Hai Mera Sunday is what I'd call a feel-good tragedy. All of us are forced to accept – and find some solace and silver linings in – our abusive relationship with this city. And despite this not-so-lavish inevitability, it's amazing that a film like this, with resolutions so submissive, feels so very uplifting.
Maybe it's the easy accessibility, or the fact that even its littlest victories feel like grand romances. I felt immensely happy for some reason, even though it's basically about a bunch of people finding a new bunch of people to make their confines less restrictive. Their space, in a way, becomes even smaller. But it's also a little less lonely. And perhaps that's what cinema, irrespective of its form, really is: an absolute measure of intangible emotions.
Well-observed films like these are a reminder that even the most unremarkable stories can be as adaptive as the faces that inhabit their environments. All they need is a kick – and the power to shift the goalposts.
Watch the trailer of Tu Hai Mera Sunday here: