Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah, Alia Bhatt, Fawad Khan, Siddharth Malhotra, Rajat Kapoor
Director: Shakun Batra
Kapoor and Sons is a portrait of human frailty. It's about our flaws, our wounds, our losses, our resentments and regrets. It's about the pain we inflict on each other – the slights, big and small. And it's about the ties that bind and the love that endures. The love, which ultimately allows us to do both – forgive ourselves and find redemption in our relationships.
The story is almost entirely set in the hill station of Conoor. An ageing grandfather has a heart attack.The grand children are forced to come home. Both are writers. Arjun is a part-time bartender in New Jersey who is trying to be a novelist. Rahul is, as his mother calls him, the "perfect bachcha.' He's an affluent, in-demand, published novelist, living in London. All his life, Arjun has felt that he is, as he puts it, just a runner-up. The family reunion soon turns sour. Old scabs are scraped and the hurt in their hearts spills over.
Be warned that Kapoor and Sons isn't heavy on plot. It's about characters, moments, textures and emotions. This is a very hard thing to pull off and the first half is a bit of a slog. It feels like director Shakun Batra who has also written the film with Ayesha de Vitre, is finding his rhythm. Disconnected scenes follow one another and even though the acting is uniformly good, the drama doesn't grip you. The narrative seems random and repetitive.
But stay with these people. In the second half, as the Kapoor family fault lines deepen, the drama develops heft and becomes genuinely moving. But Shakun doesn't change his understated style of storytelling. There is no flash here. We are merely observing these people as they wrestle with their demons. Even in the face of tragedy, the notes never go over the top. Unhappiness unfolds surely and softly, as it would in life.
The actors breathe life into these moments. Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan and Alia Bhatt are all startlingly attractive. If used too strongly, their good looks can make emotions feel fake. But Shakun doesn't showcase their visual appeal. Apart from Kar Gayi Chull, which I just can't get out of my head, there are no concessions to their stardom. Each one steals scenes quietly – I first got teary when Alia playing Tia tells her story. She is guileless and beautifully unfettered. Then Rahul's secret made me cry. Fawad is outstanding as the son burdened by his own perfection. Siddharth as Rahul seems fueled by a bewildered rage. His ache is ferocious. And then, there's Rishi Kapoor as dadu. The actor shines through the inch-thick prosthetic make-up. When he made an impassioned plea to his grandchildren, I wept audibly.
Kapoor and Sons broke my heart in ways, big and small. The film's biggest triumph is that by the end, I felt like I was a member of this family. I wanted a group hug and therapy.