They should invent a name for the genre of films that are small, intimate, about 90 minutes long, infused with a Hollywood-indie-movie vibe, filled with good (but not great) writing and down-to-earth performances, scored with guitar and piano rather than a cascade of violins, carefully (but not fussily) framed and shot, attentive to mood and tone and texture – in short, reminiscent of something Nagesh Kukunoor might have shot as a student film had he gone to Whistling Woods. Tanuj Bhramar’s Dear Dad is that kind of movie. It’s like a short story where you know what’s coming, but still keep reading because of characters like the elderly woman who speaks matter-of-factly about her husband’s approaching death (and about his farts). Her son asks her if she’d had a happy marriage. She laughs gently – a you-kids-overthink-things-these-days laugh – and says, “Sach kahoon? Budhape mein yeh sab baatein kaun sochta hai?” I wanted to run to the screen and give her a little hug.
Here’s another character: a wife (Noopur, played by Ekavali Khanna). When we first see her, she’s scolding her little daughter for fooling around with her lipstick. “One of those moms,” we think. But she’s just a mom. She’s going through a hard time. Her husband Nitin (Arvind Swamy) has just told her he’s gay (but then you read the spoiler alert above, right?) and they’re headed for the most amicable divorce in the history of gay men who’ve married straight women. So that’s eating her up, and she’s venting some of that on the little girl with the lipstick. Later, when the child falls ill, she reverts into one of those moms we all approve of – she could have walked in from a gripe water ad. Even better is her reunion with her husband. He cannot stand her new boyfriend, who calls her Noops. But she says, “Why does it always have to be about choices you have made?” She doesn’t raise her voice. Neither does the film. I kept expecting a big, cathartic showdown. It never came.
Some parts come with that first-timer tendency to wrap everything up with a neat bow. It’s perhaps inevitable that a film named Dear Dad is going to be about fathers and sons. We see Nitin with his father. We see Nitin with his son (Shivam, played by Himanshu Sharma). But I wish the reality-show star (Aman Uppal, nailing the character’s narcissism) who advises Shivam hadn’t come with daddy issues of his own. It’s too convenient, too much. I also wish the small subplot with the godman had been axed. I can see why it’s there. Shivam wants to “cure” his father, and he goes about it the way a plucky kid in an Enid Blyton story would – it’s a child’s-eye-view solution to a terribly grown-up problem. But Bhramar isn’t able to pull it off. But this is still an impressive first feature – he has the knack of making the smallest of characters come alive, like the headmistress who insists Nitin call her Sonika and not Ma’am, and then changes her mind.
The film is anchored by Arvind Swamy’s performance – though it’s really his presence, that quiet way he weathers the worst of storms. Something’s shaken him out of his stupor. He was never a bad actor, but he was never more than a bland, buttery hunk on screen who made Madras girls draw hearts on his photographs they kept in their maths notebooks. But look at his suave, villainous turn in Thani Oruvan, and look at him here, struggling to tell Shivam his secret, or clutching his stomach (because he’s sick and hurting) and yet laughing when he reaches the loo and sees the girlie pics Shivam has put up for his benefit. He doesn’t overplay the gayness. He’s not doing that Eddie Redmayne thing of trying to mimic a tragic, wilting flower that has an eye on the Oscar for Best Actor Playing an Actress. He’s all man. He just happens to like men.
- “Sach kahoon? Budhape mein yeh sab baatein kaun sochta hai?” = Who thinks of these things when you’re old?
- Thani Oruvan = see here
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