Trial Period Movie Review: A Bland, Predictable Family Drama

Starring Genelia Deshmukh and Manav Kaul, the film is about a single mother who hires a man to be a fake dad for her son
Genelia Deshmukh, Manav Kaul, Zidane Braz in Trial Period
Genelia Deshmukh, Manav Kaul, Zidane Braz in Trial Period

Director: Aleya Sen

Writer: Aleya Sen

Cast: Genelia Deshmukh, Manav Kaul, Zidane Braz, Gajraj Rao, Sheeba Chadha, Shakti Kapoor, Barun Chanda, Swaroopa Ghosh

Runtime: 131 minutes

Available on: Jio Cinema

Trial Period is the sort of exercise in mediocre sweetness that makes it tough to tell whether it’s a children’s film or a film about children made by adults. It’s not bad – which is a relief these days – but it’s also dull, predictable and overlong for a father-for-hire story. My memories of the film years later might feature Shah Rukh Khan because I ended up getting distracted, scrolling through Twitter and finding the new ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup advert. It may also feature some nuclear stuff because I read up about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the subject of Christopher Nolan’s latest epic. I’m not sure how much I’ll remember about Trial Period itself. But I never lost track of the film despite these distractions, which says more about the storytelling than the restless viewer. 

Speaking of Shah Rukh Khan, the scene that triggers the cutesy premise is straight out of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). A six-year-old Bengali boy, Romi (Zidane Braz), breaks down in class on Father’s Day because it still hasn’t occurred to the school-teachers of Hindi cinema that not all kids have two (living) parents to write essays on. Romi gets bullied, and soon starts wondering who his father is – and what a father is. Is he a loser, superhero, escapist or all in one? His single mother, Anamaya Roy Choudhary (Genelia Deshmukh), a resident of Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park (or C.R. Park), the locality featured in Piku (2015), is a divorcee who cannot fend his questions any longer. Not even her well-meaning old neighbours (Shakti Kapoor and Sheeba Chadha) can fill in that void anymore. So she does what any clueless young mother would do – give in to the kid’s requests of ‘renting a father’ after he gets influenced by TV product infomercials. She interviews potential candidates who think they’re on dates (one can only imagine how the men from Noida react to her situation). 

Genelia Deshmukh and Manav Kaul in Trial Period
Genelia Deshmukh and Manav Kaul in Trial Period

Parallely, we see the journey of Prajapati Dwivedi a.k.a PD (Manav Kaul), a small-town man who has reached Delhi hoping that his uncle (Gajraj Rao), the founder of a placement agency, can find him a job as a history teacher. The economy is not great, so it’s only a matter of time before PD finds himself agreeing to be the father on trial for Romi. Needless to mention, the placement agency is called Parivartan (“change”) so that uncle can crack a pun about it being named Parivar (“family”) instead. Mother of the Year Ana goes a step further and hires PD to be a boring and distant father, so that her son never craves for a dad again. She essentially wants to gaslight her son into hating fathers and men. Now that’s progressive thinking. 

It’s also a matter of time before the makeshift family finds themselves settling into a real rhythm; before Romi enjoys PD and his company; before unlikely attachments bloom; before chemistry grows between two adults pretending to be domestic partners. Speaking of opposites (accidentally) attracting, it’s hard to ignore the classist undercurrents of stories that present ‘contrasts’ as rural and urban stereotypes. The film constantly plays PD and his identity in the house for cartoonish sound effects and dated humour. Ana’s parents mistake him to be a cook and domestic helper; Ana keeps him in check and scolds him the way an employer would. At one point, Ana is horrified when Romi defeats his bullies in school and screams “Har Har Mahadev,” tutored by his new father. The film-making, too, treats PD like a solid simpleton who is winning hearts over in the big bad city. Eventually, the film doesn’t even realize that it’s viewing the forced love story through the most simplistic lens: Poor Man and Modern Woman fall for one another against all odds (including on-screen chemistry, writing, acting and music). At one point, Ana enjoys a girls’ night out while PD babysits Romi, comes back home a little horny and then engages PD in an awkwardly long exchange about lust. The scene heads nowhere, with the running time of a verbose short film – something that can be said about every other moment in Trial Period

In 2023, you need more than cultural quirks and oversmart kids to make a comedy that totally forgets about the child once the adults start developing feelings for each other. Romi goes from plot darling to collateral damage for no fault of his own, while Ana and PD hijack his fairytale and impose their own ideals onto the meandering film – which is, ironically, a decent analogy for vintage Indian parenting. The Roy Choudhary household is the least interesting aspect of a film that’s reluctant to be about them. I’d have preferred one about their next-door neighbours, PD’s uncle or even Ana’s chaste Bengali parents (played with familiar wit by veterans Barun Chanda and Swaroopa Ghosh). But one must make do with the ho-hum ways of Trial Period, where emotions feel like products that are gift-wrapped to emphasize the need for ‘complete’ familyhood. Romi gets his human toy, and good on him, because at least one of us is a happy camper right now. I thought I saw Margot Robbie in a pink dress somewhere in the film, but again, maybe that was my Facebook-scrolling phase.

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