Readers Write In #531: A few thoughts on ‘Goodbye’

Posted on December 15, 2022

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By Raghu Narayanan

The movie Goodbye starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rashmika Mandanna, Neena Gupta and Ashish Vidyarthi among others was released on 7th October. It bombed at the box office and went without making much noise. I watched it over the weekend on OTT and came off with mixed feelings. Some aspects about the movie impressed while other parts were a letdown. In any case, I decided to give some tangibility to my thoughts about the movie. Initially, I questioned myself as to ‘why write about a movie which did not make even a small ripple at the BO?’. Then another part of my own mind came up with the response that any movie starring Mr. Bachchan Sr. does justify a write-up just by that fact. Then again, this will not be your comprehensive ‘review’ – am simply not qualified for writing one. So, if you find some table-stakes aspects of a ‘review’ missing, then it is because it is not a review but just a collection of my thoughts. So, here goes.

The movie is about a family consisting of the father, mother and 4 children. All the children are grown up now and have their heads fully immersed in their careers and are based all across the world, busy doing their own things. They seem to have very little time for their parents, or for each other. In this scenario, a bomb gets dropped one night through the sudden and unexpected demise of the mother, who is everyone’s favorite in the family. Unfortunately, the father is all alone in handling this crisis except for a girl who is a foster-daughter and has been with the family, helping them, since her childhood. The children come to know one by one and start flying back home. The daughter is the closest to home and is the first to come on the scene. The eldest son, who  is in LA, is the next to arrive. The last son, who is an adopted son living in Dubai comes later. The 2nd son who is a mountaineer and is out on an expedition, is not reachable and does not even get to know of his mother’s death until he comes back home much later. The movie depicts the relationship between the father and his children, what they agree and disagree, their beliefs and how they express them, and how all of these get redefined by the loss of a loved one. This a very promising premise and context for making a movie and the central theme of the movie, as I see it, lends more weight and credibility to this premise and context. However, there are two aspects to everything – that is, outward appearance and the underlying form. While the central theme, premise and context make up the underlying form of a movie, the outward appearance is represented by the acting performances, screenplay, editing, music, script, etc. Many times, even though the central theme and premise might be very thin and weak, movies have become successful by the sheer force of the screenplay, acting, music score and so on. On the contrary, sometimes even though the central theme and premise is very profound, movies have been let down by weak scripts, acting, direction, screenplay, etc. Sadly, Goodbye will fall in the latter category with a good central theme but below par script and under-weight acting performances. Such a fare from Vikas Bahl who gave us Queen and Super 30 as a Director and Udta Punjab and Masaan (among others) as a Producer, makes it very interesting indeed. This movie deserved a heavier star cast and suffered from the lack of it.

The characters are made out to represent various points of view in the society, specifically regarding rituals and other religious practices. The father, played by Mr.Bachchan Sr. represents a patriarchal figure who has strong opinion on matters, expects his children to do as he says (accept and behave according to an hierarchy), does not like that his daughter lives-in with a Muslim, and believes strongly in following customs and rituals without questioning them – in other words, the ‘andh vishwas’ group. The daughter, Rashmika Mandanna – who should have grabbed this opportunity with both hands to highlight what acting talent she has but fails to impress, has an equally strong mind as her father and who does not believe in doing as she is told. She always seems to be questioning everything and so naturally, falls into the ‘rationalist’ bracket. Be it her questioning of the rites and rituals performed on her mother, or the reason as to why ashes have to be immersed in the Holy Ganga, she seems to be either ridiculing popular beliefs and customs or seems to be having a scientific explanation to the rituals as against mythological ones. The eldest son, played by Pavail Gulati, is somewhere in between these two extreme opposite characterizations of the father and the daughter. Neither is his belief as strong as his father, nor does he rebel as strongly as his sister. He goes along with things as long as it does not hurt him personally, and when it comes to that he wriggles out of it without coming across as a rebel. In other words, he is either a ‘light’ believer or a pseudo rebel according to what suits him better in that situation. Lastly, we have Ashish Vidyarthi as the neighborhood uncle, who is always looking over your shoulder to judge you and ensure that you are conforming to the customs and traditions and following them to a ‘t’. In fact, he appoints himself as the MC in driving the formalities for the rites. This character will have to represent the faceless society at large, which is always out there to judge us and our actions, and which we have empowered to such an extent as to influence our actions to be seen as acceptable and conforming to its rules. 

It has to be agreed that this is a very powerful setting which, if it had been made well, could have ensured a different trajectory to the movie. The movie first sets up the narrative by showcasing some of the popular beliefs around performing last rites and rituals, which then get ridiculed. Whether it is about which direction in which to keep the body, or plugging the nose or tying the big toes, etc. Or when Ashish Vidyarthi goes on about how the soul, after leaving the body, will be floating in the air at about 12 feet height. Or when the eldest son goes shopping for ‘samaan’ to perform the rituals, the uncle says that he has to buy 7 gold coins to be given in ‘dhaan’. The son exclaims that this is turning out to be exploitation and business, to which the shop keeper accepts that it is indeed a profitable business, one that will never go dry. All of these scenarios succeed in creating a strong emotion against ‘andh-vishwas’ group. The next part of the movie goes on to create circumstances which normalizes these perspectives of the members of the family. Events happen which changes the perspective of people, which in turn makes them more open-minded and accepting of each other. As for the father, just the act of coming to terms with the loss of his wife, whom he loved very much, gives the impetus to let go and become more accepting. It makes him take a kinder view of his children, and that in turn draws them more towards him. The daughter has her moment of reflection when the Pandit-ji in Haridwar (nice cameo by Sunil Grover), where the family went to immerse the ashes, asks her if she would rather come to Haridwar to immerse the ashes for a ‘boring’ scientific reason that the chemicals in the ashes will be beneficial for downstream farmlands, or would an ‘interesting story’ that doing so would give mukti to her mother make her more forthcoming? Further such interactions with the Pandit opens up the perspective of the daughter to be more accepting of myths and beliefs rather than openly ridiculing them. The ‘in-between’ eldest son, while in Haridwar refuses to tonsure his head as part of the ritual because he has important meetings coming up in office back in LA, gets to experience the moment when truth hits hard, which makes him prioritize family over career. The usual ‘gol-gappa’ seller comes to the street and calls out his mother, not knowing she is no more. The son too, without realizing because he was on an office call, calls out to his mother and that is when it hits home that she is not there anymore. Later, he is shown going to their regular barber ‘uncle’ to get his head tonsured where he is seen to give a ‘scientific’ reason that sacrificing your hair makes you let go of your ego. Lastly, when the family returns from Haridwar and is planning for the final function, it is shown that they do not respect or give importance to Ashish Vidyarthi as they had done initially, he gets neglected and slowly makes his way out of the house – which metaphorically shows that the family has come closer and is giving more importance to each other than to the society ‘out there’. 

Through all these scenarios and situations, the movie strives to strike a balanced point of view and convey that, just because we do not understand the reason or meaning behind certain practices (in the movie’s context, this represents the rituals around the death of a person), we should not conclude that there is no meaning or reason for these practices. It is better to perceive these with an open mind by simply accepting that we do not know if there is a reason and if there is, what it might be. At the same time, the movie also seems to suggest that these practices should not be followed blindly, just because we and our ancestors have been performing these for over centuries. Rather, it is better to perform these with a real emotional connect (again, in the movie’s case, the emotional connect felt towards the mother) and not for any other reason. 

There are also other scenes created to pile guilt on the children, but also seems to show that they are victims of the circumstances. The daughter, who is a practicing lawyer, goes to a party after she has won her first case owing to which she misses out on calls from both her mother, which happens to be the last call her mother will make to her, as well as her father who was calling to say that her mother is no more. She later comes to know about her mother from the waiter of the bar as her father, being unable to reach her, had the waiter convey this information. There is another scenario, where the son based in Dubai breaks down inconsolably upon getting to know that his mother is no more. However, he later orders butter chicken in his hotel while waiting for his flight,  which his father comes to know and is critical of. What is right, and what is wrong in these situations? Can a son, who genuinely feels gutted that his mother is dead, not order butter chicken while waiting at the hotel to get his ticket booked? Is a daughter, having no idea that her mother might go away, wrong that she parties all night after having won the first case of her life? These are poignant situations which supplement in conveying the central theme that we should be more open-minded and accepting rather than ridiculing and being opinionated. In the times that we live in, where we see misunderstanding and intolerance surrounding us from all directions, the theme of this movie seems to be very appealing. More often than not, we see that most of us are very eager to ascribe ‘no reason or rationale’ to something for which we are not able to find or understand the reason or rationale. From my perspective, this is as much ‘blind faith’ as is asserting that all these practices have valid reasons without knowing if there are any, or what they are. So, this is where this movie wins my support. 

So why then did the movie not click? In my opinion, it is at times due to bad script, other times due to below par acting, and then, at others, due to both. Certain scenes leave you shaking your head, as in the 2nd son who is a mountaineer, played by Abhishekh Khan and who is not reachable for most part of the film because apparently his phone battery is dead, and he has no place to charge his phone while he travels back by train to his home! Don’t trains these days have charging ports in the compartments? And he finally gets to charge his phone at a shop in a station where he gets the message sent by the girl-help at home the night his mother passed away, i.e., more than 10 days ago! Seems way out of touch with reality. In another such outlandish scene, the eldest son and his wife will be trying to conceive a child on the day the mother has been cremated. When the father knocks on his door to ask what the hell is going on, the son says that nobody has the mood, but he is doing it because he had promised his mother that he will make her a ‘dadi’ before their father’s 70th birthday which is to come in the next few days! Seriously??!! Such frivolously  constructed scenes drag the movie down to its pits. As regards the acting performances, Mr.Bachchan Sr. carries most of the weight on his aging and sloping shoulders. He does well as the opinionated father, who feels his children have left him and his wife all by themselves and do not care enough. The later scenes where he comes to terms with his loss, and accepts the way forward are also well enacted by the legend. Rashmika Mandanna gets the meatiest of roles after Mr.Bachchan but does not capitalize on the opportunity. She is angry most of the time, which seem to be the requirement for most of her scenes. But on the few occasions when she is expected to show more profound emotions, she falls flat. And then, her accent gets exposed as well. Neena Gupta and Ashish Vidyarthi do not have much to do. A very simple outing for them. The other actors were adequate without being impactful. Considered in totality, the performances of everyone put together does not ‘land’. They do not create one tear-jerker moment for us to take home, though the movie seems to be having enough potential for this. Without doubt, the best performance comes from Mr.Bachchan in the scene where he is talking to his wife’s ashes before they are to be immersed in the Ganga. That monologue is the only ‘acting’ part worth talking about. 

It is hardly surprising then that the movie did not create even a ripple at the BO. But yes, while watching it in the cozy confines of your home, on a week-end afternoon, after a sumptuous meal, well, it gave some food for thought as well.