Oct. 20, 2011: On The Table ~ The Middle Age Spread

Jenny K:  Since we had been talking literature adaptations recently, I ran across and decided to watch Such a Long Journey (1998) on Netflix the other day, an adaptation of Rohinton Mistry’s (author of A Delicate Balance) 1991 novel. Frankly, I picked it out for the cast; Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Roshan Seth. Even a young Ranjeet Chawdhry (The Last Holiday, Bollywood/Hollywood) has a great cameo as a talented street artist. Yet with all that talent, the actors seemed to have been encouraged not to shine, to be as ordinary as possible.  Here’s a typical scene, with Roshan Seth and his family not really relating.   

If they wanted to show the dark and dismal everyday side of contemporary Indian life…this movie has it in spades. Poor Gustad (Roshan Seth). His life is one long frustration. He works at a drab bank, with drab people, they have ordinary drab conversations. He and most of his friends have everyday hopes and dreams for their families and lives, but none of them seem to come true. His wife, Dilnavaz (yes, the Ice Candy Man’s name in Earth…which kept throwing me off… I thought it was a man’s name), played by Soni Razdan is faded and almost drab, too.  She’s worn out by how hard they have to work for so little…and her husband’s optimism just irks her when it shows up, as in the episode where he brings home a live chicken, so she can cook it “fresh” like his grandmother used to do. His son, Sohrab (Vrajesh Hirjee) hates his life and how his family is pushing him to be an engineer…and that’s the upbeat part of the film. Really, here’s another typical clip…at least he’s getting out a bit with a co-worker.

Julie M:  From what I know about Mistry as a writer, he idles at dark and dismal.  There are particular political backdrops in his books that are important to know about, and the whole point of his books seems to be the extra chaos politics causes on regular people who are just trying to live their lives amid all the other non-politics-related stuff that happens.  Such a Long Journey is from the time period of the big India-Pakistan war—same war as in Border—and although I’ve not read it (I’m going to have to now, though) I can bet it’s a similar “you are there” total-immersion experience like A Fine Balance was for the Emergency period.  The clips at least show it to be highly realistic.

Jenny K:  Yeah, he’s a one-man antidote to the Bollywood feel-good film glut.  But the way films are going these days, there’s a shortage of those films now.  Pessimism is the new Peppy in film USPs. 

But back to the film, to put a cherry on the top of my disappointment, Naseerji’s character (my main reason for watching) is just there peripherally.  He’s an almost mythical character who rescued Gustad from a car accident (that we see in flashbacks) and involves him with Om and some probably fictional espionage dealing with the Bengali Resistance, Indira Ghandi and the Pakistani problems of the 1970’s.  So, the big guns are there for so few scenes (except Mr. Seth, of course) that it scarcely merits their being in the credits. The plot twists about this resistance movement are really convoluted, too and neither Pat (my co-pilot in tedium) nor I really understood all the nuances of it in the first place. So, in spite of the cast, and the atmospheric cinematography, I can’t really recommend it…even if Roger Ebert really liked it.

Julie M:  Actually, from your description and the clips this seems like something I might like.  It’s a Canadian production, so it seems designed for Western audiences.  The big question is:  book or movie first? I probably shouldn’t have looked at the clips…now I’ll imagine Roshan Seth instead of whoever my brain chooses to put there…

Weird that while you were watching Such a Long Journey, I also watched a film about a drab man, but mine was much more uplifting than yours seems to have been.  Khosla ka Ghosla (“Khosla’s Nest”, 2006) is a low-key, low-budget dramedy about working together as a family to achieve your dreams.

K.K. Khosla (Anupam Kher) is a fairly milquetoast, middle-classDelhi salaryman, close to retirement, who has just spent his life savings to buy a plot of land on which to build a dream house for his family. His family is a tad dysfunctional—I would say more disconnected than an actively bad family—the film opens with K.K.’s dream sequence that he has died and his family barely notices, being tied up in their own concerns literally over his white-wrapped and flower-bedecked corpse.  But they grudgingly humor him in his obsession with the plot and the dream house.  His family is his wife, older son Bunty (Ranvir Shorey), younger son Cherry (Parvin Dabas), and an unmarried adult daughter. Bunty is of an entrepreneurial temperament but hasn’t seemed to actually start a business yet, while Cherry is a gainfully employed software engineer who, unbeknownst to his family, has arranged a new job in New York and is about to emigrate.

Jenny K:  This is a complete non-sequitur, and I don’t expect an answer, but…was Anupam Kher ever young?  I’ve been watching for almost ten years now, and have gone a ‘fer piece back in my viewing, and he’s always looked the same.  Villain or nice guy, lawyer or teacher…always with the balding head and the lovely warm, weary eyes.  The portrait of perennial middle-age.  I wonder if he regrets never being thought of as a bankable romantic lead in a film?  I mean, without it being a comedy riff, like in KKHH.  He’s such a good actor; he could probably pull it off creditably.

Julie M:  On the day the plot is to be consecrated, the family discovers that a squatter has walled it off and claimed it as his own. Here is that scene, which beautifully shows the characters of K.K. and his sons (no subtitles, sorry):

[The writing on the wall means “Don’t pee on the wall!”]

The squatter is Kishan Khurana (Boman Irani), a wealthy and powerful developer. K.K. returns to the property agent, who encourages them to visit Khurana to clear up the “misunderstanding.” Khurana offers to vacate the land upon payment of half the Khoslas’ purchase price, which the Khoslas cannot afford. They complain to the police, who are in Khurana’s pocket and merely laugh off the complaint. Trying to resolve the situation through the legal system only leads to more frustration. 

Having exhausted standard methods to resolve the situation, the family turns to more creative ideas. Bunty’s brute-force plan ultimately lands K.K. in jail, so Cherry (on very short time due to the impending emigration) reluctantly gets involved. He comes up with an idea featuring his friend Meghna (Tara Sharma) and her theater troupe: con Khurana with a fake land deal and use the mobster’s own money to pay him off. There are of course complications, mainly resulting from the nervousness of the con’s star character who must play a wealthy and sophisticated NRI. Here’s a clip of one of many moments where the con almost falls apart:

I’m not going to spoil the ending but, since it’s billed as a comedy, you can generally assume that things don’t end up worse than they started out.

The acting in Khosla Ka Ghosla is wonderfully underplayed. The comedy aspect is gentle and subtle where it could have been played for huge laughs, and is the result of the viewer’s knowing people in their own lives exactly like the characters in the film. Relationships are developed in such a way that the viewer ends up loving all the characters equally, making it a true ensemble piece although the Cherry character is pretty much the focus. The family drama aspect derives from typical intergenerational conflicts: Cherry is embarrassed of his given name and his father’s traditional values, hence his desire to emigrate to a more “modern” culture (it is telling that he cuts his face out of a family portrait to use it for his US visa application), and K.K. is reluctant to rock the boat or do anything shady despite the insistence of his family that he shouldn’t stand by and be taken advantage of. Watching this family eventually pull together in the face of corruption on every level to make the patriarch’s dream come true is exceedingly charming.

Jenny K:  That last bit with Cherry’s situation reminds me a bit of the father/son dynamic in The Namesake, down to the name issue.  A universal theme, I guess.

Julie M: If I had any complaint, it is a typical one: the female characters are heartbreakingly undeveloped. We never even learn the names of K.K.’s wife and daughter, they are used so little. Meghna fares better as a character, probably due to the need for a love interest (it IS an Indian film, after all!) but given that she is supposedly an accomplished actress, it is strange that they do not think to use her at all in the con, falling back on her nervous director-boss as the ruse’s central figure.

Jenny K:  It was the same with the female characters in Such a Long Journey!  Dilnavaz was a one-emotion portrait, almost, and the only other female characters, the sweet little daughter, the sexy co-worker, the cranky upstairs neighbor, all were drawn with a very hasty brush, there only to convey their points through visual shorthand.  And don’t get me started on the little girl’s missing doll…there’s a symbol that I can’t even begin to translate, or even think about. Shudder.

Julie M:  Anupam Kher and Boman Irani turn in typically excellent performances, with Irani’s tendency to go overboard nicely held in check by the director. Parvin Dabas’ performance as Cherry was beautifully nuanced–you could tell the moment when he decided to throw his lot in with the family he thought he hated. It took me a while to place him, but eventually I recalled that loved him as the handsome NRI groom in Monsoon Wedding.

Verdict: if you love small indie American and British movies you will love this.  I sure did.

Khosla Ka Ghosla is available on YouTube with English subtitles:

Jenny K:  And Such a Long Journey will be much harder to find, unless you have Netflix, it’s only on VHS, I think…but, now that I think about it, maybe some Journeys are better left untraveled.

1 Comment

  1. […] last couple of years.  Let’s start with Filmistaan (2013), which is one of those films, like Khosla ka Ghosla, that is “small” and you have high hopes for, but unlike KKG, Filmistaan ultimately […]

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