I already posted my no-spoilers review, but if you have already seen the movie, or just don’t care about spoilers, here are my thoughts about how the whole plot plays out.
Yes, Fawad’s character is gay. Just like has been rumored since the very beginning of filming. And to someone who knows those rumors/is tuned into gayness, it is fairly obvious from the beginning. He is constantly on the phone with his girlfriend “Nicky”, he gets uncomfortable when his mother asks about Nicky, his body language shows no interest in Alia’s character, and so on.
But if you are less tuned in, and unaware of those rumors, and familiar with Indian film/culture, all of those elements could have been read a different way. Dating/living with a white woman could cause almost the same amount of guilt and embarrassment as living with a man. A fully in love Indian film hero would not be attracted to any other woman, because he is sooooooooo romantic. They even include a smokescreen secret, one that seemingly explains his slight discomfort and formality, since (possibly) he is aware that all of his success was stolen from his brother.
(Remember how uninterested Shahrukh was in Preeti in DDLJ? If we didn’t know he was, in love with Kajol, that could totally have been read as gay)
What really blows my mind is how they handle Fawad’s coming out. He never actually says the word “gay” and neither does anyone else. He also never says he is in love with a man or has a boyfriend or anything else terribly specific. His mother finds photos on his computer, photos that we just get quick glimpses of, him holding hands with another man, with their arms around each other on vacation. Nothing scandalous, just sweet couple-y shots that are barely glimpsed by the film camera. And then she confronts him about his “lies”. And he responds, talking about his “truth” what he is “hiding” who he “really is”. Later, he tells his brother he “is not interested in Alia, or any woman.” that he “will never have a girlfriend.” If the section 377 people come after Karan, or the censors, or the morality police, there is plausible deniability, but it feels shockingly clear to anyone who is looking for it (so, the urban multiplex audience, and the diaspora).
Speaking of Karan, I don’t know if it was him or the director/scriptwriter who chose the focus of the film, I suspect it was both of them working together, but Fawad’s story is definitely the most important. This is a movie of Venn diagrams. Or complex networks. Which is fair, that’s how families are, everyone has a different relationship with each individual person and each group of people. But Fawad is the only one who is connected to everyone in the network.
Siddharth is in love with Alia, resents his brother, and is angry at his mother. Alia is in love with Siddharth and has a crush on Fawad. Ratna Pathak is angry at Rajat Kapoor, loves and then rejects Fawad, and eventually makes her peace with Siddharth. Rajat Kapoor is angry at Ratna Pathak, bonds with Fawad. Fawad worries about his brother, loves his mother, supports his father, becomes friends with Alia. He is the only common element in every single plot and every important moment.
The film was promoted as a love story, and the love story is well done. It’s one of those romances where they get along so well, right from the start, that any complication wouldn’t even make sense. Alia says at one point, “we just fit together”, and it’s true. And the actors and script sell it that way. They meet at a house party, during the “Kar Gaye Chull” sequence, and they are just hanging out and enjoying each other.
But before Siddharth and Alia meet up again, Alia meets Fawad and is taken with his hotness, getting so over-whelmed that she accidentally says “you’re hot” (as seen in the trailer). They have a nice evening together, she gives him a peck on the lips and is immediately embarrassed, which leads to much drama later. But this interaction also serves a small purpose in supporting her romance with Siddharth. Because we can see how different she is with the two brothers. With Fawad she is confident and casual and clever. But with Siddharth, she is just happy. There is less cleverness and jokes, it is more just walking together and smiling a lot. It’s not a crush that throws you off kilter, it’s a natural comfort. Which is why the romance between them is so brief and quick. Sure, there is a big dramatic moment when she admits she kissed his brother and he gets mad. But their reunion at the end feels inevitable, that fight was just a minor bump in the road, there’s not going to be much drama in their relationship. Which is a nice kind of love story to see, but it is also the kind of love story that you only see when your movie isn’t built on it.
Actually, usually this kind of immediately getting along thing is usually seen in action movies! There’s fight scenes to get to, we don’t have time for love letters and misunderstandings! Here, actually, it’s still fight scenes! But it is fight scenes between family members, not between cops and criminals. And with words, not bullets.
(This is like half of the screentime given to the romance in Gabbar is Back. But it’s cute, right?)
Let’s talk about those fight scenes for a moment. They are really brutal. And completely unproductive. No one is really listening to each other or talking about what is really bothering them, or even caring about how other people feel. Which works really well for the fights between Ratna Pathak and Rajat Kapoor, which is the majority of the fights, because it feels like they have been having variations of these same fights for months. There is no need to explain their position or the details of what they are feeling any more, they’ve been through that and neither is budging. So they skip straight to the anger and hurt with no stop in between. But it is a little harder to believe that Ratna and Siddharth and Ratna and Fawad are able to have a big blow up, and then just sweep everything under the rug without really talking about it.
But before I get to their fights, I should say that Ratna Pathak is completely in the right and Rajat Kapoor is completely in the wrong in their fights. He is not only cheating on her, and using their savings without telling her, he is making her feel bad for being angry with him for this, convincing her that she is imagining the affair, that she has no right to dictate their savings, that his business woes are because of her, because he chose to start his own business and leave his job to make her happy. And this all becomes clear right at the end, and then he dies! Very frustrating!
In the film, there is a line about how people want their stories to have happy endings because life doesn’t always. And it feels like the filmmaker killed Rajat Kapoor because he couldn’t figure out another way to have a happy ending. I mean, if he had lived, I would have had a hard time believing that the family could ever put itself together again. Maybe his wife could forgive him, but I don’t see his sons ever being able to. Even with his death, it felt kind of abrupt. Suddenly everyone is forgiving everything he did? I needed a few more scenes, an acknowledgement that their grief is mixed with anger and resentment, that it can’t all be papered over so easily.
I have a hard time believing all of the happy endings actually. Well, except for Siddharth and Alia, like I said, that one felt natural. On the other hand, Ratna may have been in the right with her husband, but she was completely unforgivably wrong with her sons. In the end, they come back to support her in her grief and forgive her because she needs them so much. If Rajat hadn’t died, I doubt they would have ever let her into their lives again. And even so, I can’t imagine everything she did could be just swept under the rug like this. Like I said, what happened to the other fights, the ones where they talked about how this all made them feel and what they needed before they could forgive?
(Everyone complains that K3G has like 5 separate endings, and yeah, it does. But on the other hand, it makes it completely believable that both parent and child are fully able to forgive and understand and communicate honestly by the end, because they’ve worked through all the angry stuff already)
And then there is one unhappy ending that I find unbelievable! Siddharth and Fawad, respectively, have never done anything wrong to each other or to anyone else in the family. So, why are they distant at the end? Once it is discovered that all their conflicts were created by Ratna inserting distance between them, why not unite in hatred towards her and become closer? Most importantly, why is Siddharth’s response to Fawad’s psuedo-coming out, “I need time.” What does he need time for?!?!? He’s lived in America for some time, so why would he have any moral objection or innate disgusted response? And I understand that it is different when it is your brother, maybe he needs to adjust his perspective a little, but wouldn’t the death of their father and the betrayal of their mother force them past that? That just makes NO SENSE to me. There is such a high standard being held for relatives within the same generation, and no standard required at all to forgive your elders.
I mean, part of this is that I am so close with my sister in real life, the whole idea of ever siding with a parent over her just blows my mind. I know that other families/people might have different attitudes. But I do think this is kind of the extreme of that attitude, brothers who have their little jokes and enjoy each other and so on, and yet never have the kind of emotional closeness that they share with their parents, are never able to be emotional and real with each other.
Maybe that is on purpose? A sort of quiet background indication of how their parents are horrible horrible parents? We see plenty of open fights and arguments about how their father has no expectations of Siddharth, always assumes everything is his fault, and never blames Fawad for anything. And we have the big reveals that Ratna Pathak stole Siddharth’s book idea and gave it to Fawad, that she took apart Siddharth’s childhood bedroom but kept Fawad’s in place, all of that. She tries to make up for it later, but perhaps in the way the brothers’ relationship ends, we are seeing that she can’t really make up for it. Yes, they get along, they are friends, but they don’t love each other the way they could. Through out the film, we see in the background, over and over, an old photo of Fawad as a little boy kissing Siddharth as newborn. That kind of open love and acceptance, that never comes back for them. Because the 30 years of parental choices have killed it forever. Because, and I cannot say this enough, their parents are horrible horrible parents.
It’s a tribute to the acting, script, and directing that I didn’t realize how bad they were while I was watching the film. Ratna Pathak and Rajat Kapoor are both very charming actors, people you just want to spent time with and enjoy watching. And their house feels so homey, and their family jokes are so pleasant, and their fights are so funny and clever, it’s all just enjoyable. You are charmed into caring about them. And you do sympathize with their characters. But after the movie was over, thinking about it later, thinking about their actions without the super charming way they were presented, these are terrible parents! This is a family that has created its own problems.
(See how charming and happy they appear? Even though they are all hiding justifiable anger and resentment?)
Karan Johar became famous for saying “It’s all about loving your parents.” But K3G actually wasn’t about that. It was about loving your parents, but making your own life, choosing your brother, your own children, your wife/girlfriend over your parents. It’s about forcing Amitabh Bachchan, the most Patriarchal father possible, to apologize and ask forgiveness for his mistakes. Amitabh creates his own problems in that movie, and the film, and his own children, condemn him for that. And the solution is for him to beg their forgiveness, to admit he was wrong and take responsibility for his actions.
Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) is about loving and forgiving your parents, even when what they do seems unforgivable. Rajat Kapoor dies, and everyone still includes him in the family photo, because they don’t care that he cheated on his wife, stole her money, and destroyed his sons’ relationship with each other. Ratna Pathak still gets her sons to come visit her, even though she called her oldest “disgusting” for being gay, and stole her youngest’s future because she thought her oldest deserved it more. Even Rishi, charming though he is, indicates a decades long dedication to being inappropriate and focused on his own desires, and forced his oldest son to work in order to support his younger son’s education. This are all terrible parents, is what I am saying, and the end of the film suggests that we should love them anyway, just because they are our parents. Not just love them, but honor them and ignore their mistakes and obey their commands and demands no matter what.
Which is why I love the title. It’s saying that this is how Kapoors are with their sons, this is what they have been doing since 1921, and look where it has landed them.