Film companion gullak

Director: Palash Vaswani
Writer: Durgesh Singh
Cast: Geetanjali Kulkarni, Jameel Khan, Vaibhav Raj Gupta, Harsh Mayar
Streaming on: SonyLIV

After revisiting my Gullak review, I can’t help but open the review of Gullak Season 2 with the same thought. The problem with a sweet little TVF show about a middle-class family in small-town India is that it will keep reminding you that there are middle-class families in small-town India. Maybe this isn’t a “problem” to most, but I personally do not fancy being told how to watch a show – or what to admire about a show – by the show itself. To make the reminding not look ridiculous, the series is named after the reminder. A piggy bank (“gullak”) in the household provides a voiceover that waxes lyrical about the vignettes of modest middle-class-ness. Why a piggy bank, you ask? Because this one collects memories instead of coins. 

I think voiceovers are lazy, especially when they do the work of the viewer: like narrating the subtext of scenes, or making subtle and humorous observations about human nature. Much like the first season, we are repeatedly reminded of the difference between ‘qissa’ and ‘kahaani’ (even though the difference is only linguistic), lest we expect a dramatic three-act narrative: Gullak is allegedly the former, a non-story where everyday life and ‘yaadein’ (memories) are the focus. Clearly, the makers are anxious about an audience conditioned to look for plots and twists and directions. Which is fine. Nice, even. 

I couldn’t get past the sanctimonious piggy in Season 1, but this time around I (just about) did. Even though it made me feel like a child, it didn’t irk me as much. I’m not sure why. Season 2 is more of the same really – the Mishra family of four going about their unremarkable days with unremarkable tantrums and unremarkable banter and unremarkable predicaments. Jameel Khan is still solid, Geetanjali Kulkarni is still outstanding, the talented Vaibhav Raj Gupta still enjoys the spotlight, the unassuming Harsh Mayar is still the dark horse. There’s no major addition in tone or treatment. Except for some obvious visual symbolism (a window grill is framed to play up the illusion of the woman being “trapped” in a kitchen), the spatial dynamics are the same too. The house itself is a passive protagonist, a bit like Achal Mishra’s charming Gamak Ghar, except here the discrete eyes are turned into an actual device.

Yet, over five short episodes, I grew to appreciate the nothingness. The constant chatter. The anatomy of their cramped spaces. The petty ego hassles. An entire episode revolves around a cousin’s wedding card. I liked that the puns and analogies (kite-flying, PF accounts) are middle-class too. The definition of immersiveness need not be centered on the obligation to engage the viewer. There were times I zoned out of proceedings, looked away, daydreamed, scrolled through social media and tuned back in the way one might at a small party, without feeling judged or pressured. This is a kind of immersiveness too, albeit one that is more suited to life than cinema. The din itself is comforting, the voices dissolve into the background; the people and conversations aren’t as important as the sensation of human company itself. 

Perhaps my fondness of this season has something to do with the fact that we now live in a post-Panchayat world. Panchayat more or less humanized the TVF episodic narrative. It altered our perception of “light” watching. Even though every episode is designed to impart a lesson, and they may all appear unrelated like an anthology with the same cast, its universe still evokes a sense of progression. Unlike sitcoms that eschew emotional continuity in favour of disparate chapters, there is still a sense of time moving forward. There is a sense of characters evolving and learning, rather than forgetting and performing. The burdens of one episode are carried forward to the next. Some even dare to end on a solemn note, without a resolution or pay-off. 

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In Gullak, the vignettes are bound by a thread of both physical and psychological linearity. For instance, a television set that conks in the third episode stays conked in the fourth and fifth. The tension of a spat between the brothers in the penultimate episode spills over to the last one. A mixer-blender bought early in the season appears in the subsequent episodes too. The emergence of mother Shanti Mishra’s health status – and suspected diabetes – extends to the end of the season. An India-Pakistan cricket match episode doubles up as a conflict in older son Annu’s career arc; Annu’s joblessness and diminishing self-worth are primary themes that slice through the show’s frivolousness and culminate in a well-earned explosion. Younger son Aman’s board exams go from running joke to endearing fact in the final episode. Father Santhosh’s (tender) patriarchy eases up a bit after witnessing his wife’s mid-season meltdown.

In short, the growth of the characters – despite their thematic limitations – is palpable. Only, their journey isn’t from 1 to 2; it’s from one decimal point to another in between the whole numbers. The Mishras aren’t transformed. They can’t afford the luxury of earth-shattering epiphanies either. All they do is live for the next day. One generation nurtures the other. They ponder about corruption and their lack of income. Sometimes, the lack of purpose is precisely the purpose. If only an inanimate piggy hadn’t already reviewed the family before we did.

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