Director: Sonam Nair
Cast: Neena Gupta, Jackie Shroff
There’s nothing like sex to humanize the quintessential Indian parent. On screen, at least. Much of the recent middle-India films in Hindi cinema earn their most endearing moments when old-school, conservative parents try to wrap their heads around the vagaries of modern-day physical intimacy.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan’s Seema Pahwa, who plays the sexually frank mother (she even reads out her own erotic diary at one point) of a daughter whose fiancé is suffering from erectile dysfunction, is a textbook example. The film leaps when she is on screen, forcing us to laugh uncomfortably and perhaps examine the possibility of this older generation not being as rigid and prudish as 1990s Bollywood painted them out to be. This is when they feel less like characters we expect and more like characters we hope to deserve.
Sonam Nair’s short, Khujli, extends this charming little syndrome by focusing solely on these peripheral faces. We get a glimpse of what might happen behind closed doors when mom and pop are figuring out stuff on their own, instead of merely serving as a quirky device to further the younger protagonists’ stories. Jackie Shroff (his second short this year, before Shunyata) and Neena Gupta (a long-time, underutilized favourite), as a boring middle-class couple, thrive on this opportunity to explore what looks like a 30-year-old itch, both literally and metaphorically.
He finds a pair of fluffy “handcuffs” in their son’s bedroom, and this leads to an awkward and sweetly acted conversation between them. They share wonderful chemistry – never more evident than in the scene where she struggles to explain the saucy plot of 50 Shades of Grey to her curious, clueless husband. “She likes all of the hitting and bruising!” she exclaims, dropping terms like BDSM and “kinky” as if they were on a Special Sale at a mall on Diwali, clearly more knowledgeable and surreptitious about these trends.
When they decide to get with the times, their roleplay session is amusing – in the sense that they treat it as a glorified Bollywood drama sequence, almost forgetting that the primary goal is to get turned on and not entertained. Their goofiness is shot differently, too; it’s not just the tinge of red and candlelit aura (notice the substitute diyas – raunchy traditionalism) of the room, but even the handheld camera angles and movement that makes it look more like a horror movie about to go downhill.
Because this essentially is horror for most of us – watching our folks trying to get it on, failing miserably, chuckling and inadvertently showing us the bittersweet-ness of our own future. The itch is imminent. With actors like these, though, I’ll still be peaking through my fingers.
Watch Khujli here: