Variety

Pankaj and Shahid's Mausam: Babalog of Bollywood

Shashi Baliga | Updated on: Sep 30, 2011

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What is this national obsession with wanting to see assorted family members together on screen?

I can't thank Pankaj Kapur enough for not acting in Mausam .

Hand on heart, no offence whatsoever meant to this senior actor. I am, like so many others, a huge admirer of his acting, and have nothing but the sincerest wishes for the success of his directorial debut.

But I have had it up to here with the PR spin on the father-son angle to this movie and I shudder to think what proportions it might have achieved had both of them been acting in the movie. For months now, we've been hearing about how ‘special' this movie is because Pankaj Kapur and Shahid Kapoor (who insist on spelling their surnames differently) have come together as director and actor. We were reminded of it almost on a daily basis because that, apparently, was the great big draw that was supposed to get us moviegoers flocking to the theatres.

Excuse me while I scream.

This is not the first time this marketing hook has been thrown at us, and it will not be the last. I wouldn't blame the PR guys alone; we journalists are equally to blame in this regard.  It's something to do with us Indians — whether it is films or politics or ‘Indian culture', why are we so enamoured, so ruled, by The Family? What is this national obsession with wanting to see parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings and assorted family members together on screen?

Sonam Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha are constantly asked by journalists when they are going to star in a movie with their fathers. Katrina Kaif is asked when she's going to spring her sister Isabel on us. Ranbir Kapoor is asked when he and his father, Rishi, are going to sign a film together. Ranbir and his cousin Kareena Kapoor are grilled on the same count, though they both have made it amply clear they will not do a romantic film together for obvious reasons.    

We just don't seem to get enough of family connections. But somebody please tell me, how does it make a movie better?

For years on end, Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan were pestered to star in a movie together. Then we had a spate of them: Bunty Aur Babli , Sarkar and Sarkar Raj , Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna , Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and, of course, Paa . The novelty of both of them wooing Aishwarya Rai in Kajra Re soon wore off, and by the time Paa released, we simply forgot that they were father and son, and started looking at them as, simply, two actors. And in any case, what cinematic difference did the real-life relationship make onscreen? Paa , the most outstanding of the lot, was a success because of Bachchan Sr's magnificent performance as the endearing Auro. Junior did a good job, yes, but the film would have been a hit had any other competent actor taken his place. And that is the case with practically every such project.

But look at the endless possibilities in our family-driven business — father and son, mother and daughter, father and daughter, mother and son, husband and wife, uncle and nephew (can you imagine the hype if Aamir and Imran Khan were to star in a movie together?), brothers and sisters… stop!

In an industry where the family rules, and children are presumed to be headed for the ‘family business' until proven otherwise, this business could stay with us forever.

With Mausam , our latest case in point, debutant director Pankaj Kapur seems to have gone all out to showcase his son in a film that clearly aims for the epic sweep and grand tragedy, but tries your patience for so long and so illogically that you're an exhausted, whimpering mess by the time it rumbles to its particularly hare-brained conclusion. Shahid is, without doubt, a gifted actor and has been presented with what Bollywood loves to call “a role of a lifetime”, which means he has a bit of everything to do (including looking like a Ray-Ban model as an Air Force pilot). His heroine, Sonam Kapoor, photographed exquisitely by cinematographer Binod Pradhan, has, to Pankaj Kapur's credit, been given a role to sink her pretty teeth into as well.

But an actor's dream could well turn out to be the audience's nightmare. After you've seen Shahid play a charmingly rakish rustic, a strong-and-silent admirer, ramrod-straight Air Force pilot, despondent lover and superhuman Samaritan, you have had a serious overdose of histrionics.

Leading you to wonder: has Pankaj Kapur the director succumbed to the father or the actor in him? Has a father's desire to give his son the role of a lifetime won or has an actor's inability to say, okay, that's enough on my plate, thank you?

Perhaps both. So a story that starts out with lots of humour and charm in Mallikot village in Punjab, assumes an epic manner somewhere along the way, with everyone walking around with a sense of impending doom. Pankaj Kapur takes his weary audience all around the globe — Scotland, Switzerland and the US, with some diversions to Kashmir, Rajasthan and Ahmedabad thrown in, before that long-overdue happy ending finally offers sweet relief.

Many great actors (and some not-so-great ones) have made good directors. Rakesh Roshan, Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowariker come to mind. In Farhan Akhtar we even have one director who seems to be busier acting these days. Pankaj Kapur is such a skilfully underplayed actor that most of us expected a delicately nuanced debut from him. He has delivered — in part. But either parental affection got the better of him, or that old bogey, commercial pressure, did, in the second half. Perhaps only his family can tell.

shashibaliga@gmail.com

Published on September 29, 2011
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