Director: Seema Pahwa
Cast: Supriya Pathak, Manoj Pahwa, Vinay Pathak, Ninad Kamat, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Konkana Sen Sharma, Vikrant Massey, Divya Jagdale
Ram Prasad ki Tehrvi is Seema Pahwa's directorial debut. You will know the actor from the many mothers and chachis she has played onscreen. Among my favourites is the hapless mom in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, who tries to explain the mysteries of a woman's body to her daughter by comparing it to a gufa which only opens for Alibaba and not for the chaalis chor. Irrespective of the length or depth of the role, Seema imbues her characters with humanity and affection. They are people we recognize, people we might know in life.
She brings the same authenticity and warmth to her film. Ram Prasad ki Tehrvi is a family drama bursting with taujis, chachis, bhabhis and nanads. But no one in this vast tableau is shortchanged. Each character is distinctive and nursing unique wounds. When they all gather after their father – the titular Ram Prasad – dies, the gloves come off. But the arguments, old hurts and bitchy asides don't lead to any earth-shattering confrontation. There are no villains here. Just the understanding that human beings are flawed, relationships are fragile and yet, we must strive, as best as we can, to be happy.
The family reunion at a funeral is a standard movie trope. Think of films like August: Osage County or the comedy Death at a Funeral. In Kapoor and Sons, the grandfather's heart-attack forces the brothers to come home. Seema uses the structural device to frame her story – the film begins with Ram Prasad dying and the narrative unfolds over the days until his tehrvi. Ram Prasad's six children, their spouses and children and other relatives gather. There are arguments about how the kachoris should be cooked and how long Mama ji takes in the bathroom. The four brothers gather on the terrace to have drinks at night. Three sisters-in-law gossip about the fourth one. One nephew even manages a flirtation. Meanwhile Ram Prasad's wife, Amma ji, stares at her vast sprawling family and wonders who these people are. In one scene she says mournfully: Aaj jab sab saath hain toh bhaut akelapan lag raha hai.
This is a film about loss and the small acts of selfishness that accrue over a lifetime but Seema, who has also written the story, consistently leavens it with humor – even the rituals of death have an unexpected comedy. In one scene, a relative is haggling over the cost of the wood for Ram Prasad's pyre. Seema also pokes gentle fun at Amma ji, who repeats, with tears and relish, the story of how her husband died to each visitor who asks, 'yeh kaise hua'. After all, it's Amma ji's moment in the spotlight.
The large house in Lucknow where the family gathers is a looming presence in the film. The various levels, the spiral staircase, the bedroom on the terrace – all add texture to the film's lived-in atmosphere. The camera glides in and out of these spaces with fluidity. In fact, the weakest scenes in the film are those outside the house. Seema also assembles a terrific cast – from Naseeruddin Shah, who makes a guest appearance as Ram Prasad, to Supriya Pathak as Amma ji to the terrific Manoj Pahwa as the eldest brother to Parambrata Chatterjee as the youngest brother to Konkona Sensharma as his wife to Vikrant Massey, as the hormonally charged nephew to Brijendra Kala as the permanently aggrieved son-in-law. But no one person dominates the frame. They work together like a seasoned sports team.
Ram Prasad ki Tehrvi has passages that are inert. In some scenes, the film's strains much too hard to tug at our heartstrings. The background score by Sagar Desai aids in this but the songs seem unnecessary. Seema is too keen to spell out the lessons to be learned here – Ram Prasad's piano and the necessity of fixing faulty notes is a recurring motif. And the script ties up the narrative threads a little too neatly. But the director's compassionate gaze helps to steer the film through these hurdles.
I know the idea of starting new year with a film about death doesn't seem very appealing but Ram Prasad ki Tehrvi leaves you with hope and a smile.
You can see it in theaters. Please do remember to wear a mask.