Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Youth films and the Rajwade kids

I have an axe to grind with most Indian films about young people and youth - most of them seem obsessed with young romance as if it were the most profound thing in the world. I am not against young people hooking up. I envy people who find their life partners at a very young age and manage to stick to the relationship and build a life together. Envy, because it is such a rare occurrence. I know exactly three such couples in real life, and the beauty of their stories lies not in the meeting or falling in love, but in the years of growing up together, navigating the challenges of adulthood and the needling doubts that are bound to crop up. Those are stories we almost never get to see in the movies. What we get is the kind of films Alia Bhatt has made her own.

Her debut movie has her torn between a rich guy and a poor guy. By the end of the movie we are told she has managed to stick it out with one of them. Her second film had her running out on her own wedding. Her most successful film till date is about how she goes about getting married to the guy she met in college. She is one our youngest actors who actually looks young, and I am yet to see her in a role where marriage isn’t one of the major themes. She is much more fun to watch in pimple cream ads and YouTube videos.

This is the one of the unique features of Sachin Kudalkar's new Marathi film Rajwade And Sons. Despite the presence of four good looking single youngsters and one good looking single Atul Kulkarni, the film is refreshingly unconcerned with love and romance. Exactly one character has a romantic sub-plot, and the paramour in that story has all of one scene and no speaking part. For the rest of its runtime, the characters in the film have their hands full trying to balance the expectations of the older generation against the aspirations of youth.
I have not read any of the reviews, but from what I heard, the film has been accused of being slow with not a lot happening. That isn’t something I strictly mind in a film that can engage me in the slowly unfolding little stories of interesting characters, and that is something Rajwade And Sons does quite well.

Briefly, the ‘story’ follows three generations of a very affluent family in Pune as they move out of their ancestral mansion, which they have assigned to redevelopment. They briefly settle into four separate flats in one of those swanky apartment buildings that have been popping up in the city’s fast growing outskirts. During one of their last visits to their old house, they receive an unexpected guest - Vikram, the prodigal son who had run away from home almost two decades ago.

Vikram’s arrival is most warmly welcomed by the four 20-something kids of his older siblings, who are fascinated by his ‘cool’ life. He is a globe-trotting investment consultant with seemingly loads of cash, a South African wife and a no-strings lifestyle. One by one, he catalyses questions and introspection in each member of the family, lending an ear, offering a suggestion, gently prodding the youngsters along to follow their dreams instead of settling into the family business like the generations before them.

One by one, the youngsters rebel under the gentle patronage of their lost-and-found uncle. Sachin’s daughter Shweta pursues her dream to travel the world rather than get married, Mrunal’s daughter Ananya moves to Mumbai to pursue a modelling career. Her brother Virajas chooses to stay with the family business, and is handsomely rewarded with a plum position and a new car.

The middle generation gets interesting character arcs too. Sachin Khedekar, the oldest son of the family patriarch realizes with a sigh that his life is set. He is a simple Marathi man, as he puts it, who has never thought beyond the life path set out for him by his father and now, with his own apartment without the foreboding eyes of his stern father over him, the best he can do with the new-found freedom is to take the occasional swig of beer in his own drawing room.

The sister, Mrunal Kulkarni faces up to the fact that she gave up on her dreams of being an actress under family pressure and due to an early marriage. However she also realises that it may not be too late for her daughter. Atul Kulkarni plays a widower who too, like his older brother and sister, married young under the orders of his father, but the film reveals some fascinating aspects to his character that I won’t spoil here.
Rebellion however is not the point of the film. The film is mercifully bereft of the kind of melodrama you would generally expect in this kind of a story. It also avoids judging anyone, not even the stern patriarch or Mrunal’s somewhat uncouth small-town husband. The grandmother played by Jyoti Subhash is a delight to watch. The lady demands prompt wi-fi connection in the new house so she may skype with her old friends, and pulls out an iPhone as soon as Vikram shares his Twitter handle. Incidentally she is the only character who voices that popular old grudge about a changing Pune.

The revered Marathi author and humorist P L Deshpande (Pu La, as he is fondly called in Marathi) once remarked that in order to become a Punekar, you should learn to complain about how Pune is not what it used to be. The city of Pune gets a starring role in this film, with leisurely night-time drives along FC Road and panoramic views of the city and its changing face. Pu La is also referenced by the grandfather - his habit of recalling the beloved author is one of the humanizing touches in a somewhat unsympathetic character.

When the character of Vikram first appeared with his swanky suitcases, I braced myself for a Bawarchi rehash, but thankfully he does not play a preachy, magic-wand-wielding influence here. The people in the family mostly figure things out for themselves - the wheels are set in motion much before we meet them. I suspect they would have made the same choices even if Vikram never came back in their lives. His presence here, and the endearing scenes he shares with his nephews, nieces, siblings and mother only make the proceedings more interesting cinematically.

All in all, it is a warm and endearing couple hours with a bunch of likeable people and general doses of Pune. It has been released with English subtitles, and is worth a watch even if you don’t follow Marathi. The specifics may be very Pune-centric, but the characters and themes have a very universal, very modern appeal. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon at the movies.

**Edit: An earlier version of this article wrongly cited the name of the actress playing the grandmother. Thank you Manali, Snehal and Abhimanyu for correcting me.


  1. Hi! The grandma's name is Jyoti Subhash and not shubha Khote.

  2. grandmother played by Sulbha khote ? That's Jyoti Subhash to my knowledge.

  3. The grandmother is played by Jyoti Subhash, Amruta Subhash's mother and not Sulbha Khote as you mentioned above.