I saw Kapoor and Sons last night, and it was definitely different. Not-Indian in a lot of ways, mostly stylistic, and very Indian in other ways, mostly family structure. Although, at some point, this family stuff turns into just basic realities of human nature, it’s just that Indian film is the only industry that really highlights these kinds of things.
(if you want another perspective, check out the review by moviemavengal)
So, first impressions, I wasn’t completely blown away. It’s a very very well-made film. But the story just didn’t grab me as much as it could have. It was the same feeling I had watching Dil Dhadakne Do and Tamasha, that this was made for a very particular audience, which is not me. Or the very small children sitting near us in the theater, who were very bored. But it was very very well-made, and that I can really respect.
After Rishi’s interview yesterday, I was really curious about the filming techniques, since Rishi was so frustrated with all the retakes. I can see what he was talking about in the finished film. It’s all handheld cameras, moving in and out of the space, used to give the feeling of another person in the room easily navigating through the space. The challenge with filming like that, constantly moving, is that you can’t use two cameras at once. If they are both moving at all times through the whole space, chances are they will line up at some point and catch a glimpse of each other.
You can see this in one scene of the Ocean’s 12 film. The entire 11 person main cast is gathered in one large hotel room. Soderbergh wanted to use a handheld camera moving in and out of the scene, giving the audience just snatches of dialogue and have heard conversations, and also giving us a sense of 11 actors as equals, not one in the forefront and one in the back. But, he wanted to be able to get multiple angles in one shot, without sacrificing the spontaneity of the actors’ performance or the loose feel of the dialogue. So he put the camera in the script, had one of his actors hold the second camera and play with it in the background, while the other characters occasionally yelled at him to stop and pay attention.
Russian Ark is of course the most famous film to be made this way, moving through the Hermitage Museum in Russia, all in one shot. It was extremely extremely difficult, but it was also the kind of filming that Rishi Kapoor was demanding in his interview, complaining about the director taking multiple takes and planning to figure it out in editing. In Russian Ark, the director figured out every shot, every angle, every movement, in advance. There was some editing done on the film in post-production, effects added, some moments sped up or slowed down. But the primary composition of shots and vision of the film was done long before the camera was turned on. The actors had to be perfect and hit their marks exactly for it to work. But they only had to do it once, no retakes.
In Kapoor and Sons, the camera moves in a combination of these two films. Often, during family conversations, it will move like in the scene with 11 cast members in Oceans 12, going in and out of particular conversations, confrontations, focusing on someone’s face, and then moving back to reveal who they are speaking with. This is done in the very first scene of the film, we see Rishi Kapoor eating an orange, the camera moves from his face, to his hand, then cuts and pulls back so we see him eating. And then he falls onto the table, eyes open, face still. And only at this point do we switch to a different angle and a farther back shot to reveal that two other people are sitting at the table with him.
The majority of the film takes place in one of two locations, two old houses in Ooty, Alia’s and the Kapoor family’s. The camera is comfortable in these locations, it moves up and down hallways, peaking through doors and looking away again, changing directions to reveal different aspects and small elements-a door frame, a window, a picture. The camera uses the way it moves through the space to make us feel comfortable in it, make it feel like the familiar family house that it is for these characters.
These two specifically digital/handheld ways of using the camera are more than just style choices, they relate back to how the narrative is framed. It’s an ensemble piece, we are meant to understand and care about all the characters equally, that’s why the group scenes are filmed with the camera moving back and forth on focus between different people, with no foreground and no background. And it’s a piece about established patterns, familiar systems, the past coming up and freezing you in place. That’s why we are constantly coming back to the same location, looking at old family pictures, albums, artifacts. We may see more details each time we come back, we may learn more, but we can never fully break free.
Of course, the acting and the script also help with this message! The cast in general is phenomenal, of course. Ratna Pathak is always amazing whenever she deigns to be in a film, she has a great sort of casual charm. Rajat Kapoor has a kind of still confidence which makes his characters subtly charismatic. Alia really dug deep here, pulled up the kind of natural embodiment of her character and emotions that she showed in Highway. She has the most under-written part, and her performance elevates it to a deeper level than is provided by the script alone. Siddharth is, well, fine. He’s asked to do the least, doesn’t have any really complicated emotional scenes, just needs to present an easy going young sort of affect. Which he does.
And then there’s Rishi. Who is, you know, Rishi! He’s charming and comfortable on camera and so very very loveable. As he always is. His character needs to be there as the one neutral person in the family, the one person that everyone loves and wants to see happy. So they cast the one actor who can project that, he makes you believe he loves you and you love him and all is right in his world. It’s the same thing he has been doing since the 70s, just like when he confidently announced that Zeenat Aman would publically admit her love for him if he asked her.
(It takes a special kind of confidence to pull off that shirt)
But above all the rest of the cast, even the rest of the characters (well-written and well-acted as they are), is Fawad. And yes, the thing we all thought would happen with his character is the thing that happens. And it is handled brilliantly! This character has so many secrets, and so much going on with him, but he also has to present a charming and happy face to the world, make us believe that his brother would envy him, his mother would love him, and all the girls would have crushes on him. It’s a stunningly complicated part, having him play the “perfect son” the “charming stranger” the “supportive brother” the “loving boyfriend” all at once. And at the same time, adding another layer to all of these performances, that he is actually “playing” these parts, not truly comfortable in them. A layer which isn’t revealed until the very end of the film when we finally see him snap and reveal real emotions, showing how superficial everything we saw of him before really was.
I loved him in Khoobsurat, where he took an underwritten role and made it memorable while at the same time not over-shadowing the star of the film. But in this, where he has permission to be the star, to take control, to be the best possible version of the best written character in the story, he is a revelation! And I have no idea if it will help his career at all. Because there aren’t many roles like this or movies like this in India, films that require of nuanced take on an unusual character. But maybe after this performance, any time there is a role such as this, it will be given to him.
Oh, and the songs were nice too, but “Bolna” was edited down so much you barely noticed it and “Let’s Nacho” was cut entirely. So if you are going just to see “Let’s Nacho”, don’t bother! Watch it below instead.