What I lovely movie! Just delightful. And no knowledge of the plot can really “spoil” it (although if you definitely don’t want spoilers, you can read my other review). So I am going to encourage you to see it in theaters if at all possible, and if not read this review and plan to catch it streaming or otherwise.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao are the parents of a nice little family, Gajraj is a conductor on a local train line (a good job but not an impressive one), they have a teenage son Shardul Rana and a grown son with a job leaps and bounds ahead of his father’s Ayushmann. And Gajraj’s mother Surekha Siki lives with them as well, all in a tiny little 3 bedroom apartment in Delhi. The biggest issues of the household at the moment is that Ayushmann has a chance to go overseas for his job and is considering it, Shardul is doing poorly in school, and Ayushmann has a romance with a co-worker (Sanya Malhotra) who the family knows about but has not yet met. Just as Ayushmann’s romance is beginning to slowly move forward, he meets Sanya’s very wealthy and sophisticated mother Sheebha Chabbha, Neena learns she is pregnant. The doctor’s suggest an abortion, but she won’t have it and Gajraj supports her. Ayushmann and Shardul are embarrassed, Surekha Siki is furious, Neena is heartbroken and struggling. Ayushmann pulls away from Sanya but finally confesses what is happening and she laughs at his worries. There is a family wedding coming up, Ayushmann and Shardul both beg off going and Neena and Gajraj are left to face the larger family and their judgments alone. INTERVAL
Ayushmann, while alone in Delhi with Shardul, goes to a party for Sheebha’s birthday. He starts to feel guilty in this very luxurious and upper class party as he remembers that his cousin is getting married that same day and he isn’t there. And then at the end of the evening he overhears Sheebha talking gently to Sanya about why Ayushmann’s family may not be the family Sanya should consider marrying into. Ayushmann bursts in and defends his family, declares that he is proud of them and ashamed of himself. Sanya is furious at Ayushmann being so disrespectful to her mother, and they break up. Ayushmann then returns home and helps his brother with the boys teasing him at school about their parents and faces his own friends and their teasing. Meanwhile at the wedding Neena is being criticized by her family until Surekha speaks up and defends her. They return home and the whole family is now united, excited for the baby and not ashamed, taking careful care of Neena (Ayushmann starts working from home) and planning a grand baby shower. Neena finally confronts Ayushmann about how Sanya isn’t coming around any more and tells him he must apologize to Sheebha and fix this. Ayushmann does, and also invites them to the baby shower. Sheebha talks to Sanya and lets her know that she has her blessing, Sanya rushes off to Ayushmann’s house just as Neena goes into labor, the whole family plus Sanya waits anxiously at the hospital, until finally the baby, a daughter, is born safely. They whole family cries in happiness. And then, over the end credits, there is a big song “15 months later” showing Ayushmann and Sanya’s engagement party with the baby daughter now an adorable toddler.
Indian film, especially Hindi film, is often about loving your parents, sacrificing for your parents, and so on and so forth. It is a culturally approved value, one you get “extra credit” for following. But it’s not really about loving your parents as people, it’s about loving the idea of parents. Going through the motions that everyone does without really thinking about what it means. This film questions that, questions our notion of what it means to have family and love your family and respect and care for your family. It asks if you really love the people you live with, love them enough to sacrifice for them not in a grand gesture but in a dull every day way.
Sanya and Ayushmann’s fight is the center of it. Neither of them are in the wrong or right. They are both fighting because they love their parents, and that’s a good thing. It’s not the usual dramatic fight over family problems, they aren’t part of some rural feud craziness, or class dispute. It’s the real way people fight over their family, fight because at some basic level the two families of a couple in a relationship are not going to be the same. And because the parents of the couple are always, in some small way, going to choose their own child over the in-law.
Ayushmann’s family is the center of this film, but it is not the best or only way to be a family. Sanya and Sheebha’s family is equally valid. And the script gives us just enough information to understand how and why they are a family. Sanya’s father is dead, she talks about everything with her mother, they live together in a large house with servants, she is excited to introduce Ayushmann to her mother and she plans an elaborate 50th birthday party for her mother filled with friends speaking English and wearing fancy clothes. Sanya is from a class where families don’t have to live in close quarters and shared households, where there is space and money enough for everyone to separate. But she and Sheebha don’t want to separate, they live together by choice and because they love each other, one tiny family of two that is just as warm and close as Ayushmann’s family of 5 squeezed into 4 small rooms. And when Sheebha criticizes Ayushmann’s family and their choices, she is speaking in the sacred space of their own tiny family, trying to protect what is theirs. It may seem like a rich woman judging a poor family with no right to do so, and yes that is part of what it is, but it is also a mother trying to protect her daughter as best she can. And Ayushmann has no right to overhear and judge her for that.
But then on the other hand, should Ayushmann stand by and watch his family being minimized and their choices judged by those who do not really know them? It would be betraying his own sacred trust of parent and child to not speak up for them. And he cannot apologize for that without betraying them, and Sanya will not let him speak that way to her family without apologizing without betraying her family. And there is no real solution for this, no simple gesture that will solve it. The answer is just to learn to live with it, to understand that not every family is the same as yours and that is okay.
And so the conflict is resolved without being resolved. Ayushmann apologies for speaking disrespectfully and asks for Sheebha to meet his family and give them a chance. That’s all, just give them a chance and see them for the people they are, learn to love them for what they are instead of what you think they should be.
This film is wonderful for how it lets us see each person as they are with others, and as they are alone. Especially Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao. With their kids they are nagging and irritating, their little habits like Gajraj refusing to tip luggage carriers and Neena suffering through her mother-in-law’s complaints. But in private, they are in love and they are romantic, he reads her poetry and she leaves her hair open because he likes it that way. And the pregnancy is something that is between them, it’s not a joke for them. One of the best things about this movie is that it doesn’t look away from the real dangers of the situation, pregnancy over 40 is dangerous, for the mother and the baby. The first medical recommendation is an abortion, and Gajraj and Neena discuss it, just the two of them. It is her decision and he wants to know it so he can support it. It is the same conversation any couple might have with an unexpected pregnancy, and just because they are middle-aged doesn’t mean Gajraj is any less worried about losing his wife, and Neena is any less definite about wanting this baby. And only then do they return home and put on their parental faces to talk to their family about the decision.
The wedding sequence is amazing, for how it shows Gajraj so in love with Neena, seeing her as beautiful and desirable, while all around them everyone else sees them as embarrassing and elderly. Neena’s pregnancy is challenging everyone to see them in a different way, and no one wants that. It’s easier to keep them in their little boxes, where they are easy to deal with. That’s what is so difficult for Ayushmann, he can love his parents without thinking about it so long as they are just his parents. Now he has to see them as humans, as people who are different with other people than they are with each other. It isn’t until he sees how they are considered from the outside that he realizes he loves them still, as the people they are, not just as his parents.
Sheebha’s judgement of Gajraj and Neena, and the judgement of the other wedding guests of them, inspires Ayushmann and Surekha to embrace them as the imperfect people they are. Sheebha thinks they are lowclass, foolish, embarrassing to be having children without concern for birth control. They are failing her modern standards. The wedding family sees them as not traditional enough, not following the rules of the Indian household. Neena’s pregnancy challenges both the old and the new, the old which says that a woman should not have sexual desire, should fade into a life lived in service of her mother-in-law and her children. And the new which says that having a love child is declasse, family’s should be planned and practical. But Surekha says “tradition” is about caring for others, taking responsibility for your family, as Neena does for her. And Ayushmann says that loving each other and not caring what anyone else thinks is the best virtue.
What I love most about this movie is that it does not pretend the problems are not there or that there will be easy solutions to them. This baby is going to be Ayushmann’s responsibility, there is no way around that. His parents are aging and will have to retire soon. He is already contributing to the household expenses, his contribution is just going to go higher and higher. Neena’s pregnancy is difficult for her in many ways, towards the end she can barely get out of bed, she is constantly wincing in pain, and of course it ends with an emergency Cesarean. And Sanya and Ayushmann will spend their lives arguing over things, over the different way she was raised from how he was raised, over how his father cannot really speak English and her mother is too close to her. But that’s okay, it’s all okay, if you look the problems in the face and accept them. Ayushmann will love this baby and care for it, Sanya and Ayushmann will fight and make up, and Neena will somehow get through the pregnancy with the support of her husband and sons. That’s what family is. Seeing the problems, and sticking together anyway.