‘Gul Mohar’ Movie Review: Manoj Bajpayee’s family drama looks good but doesn’t always feel right

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Sharmila Tagore and Manoj Bajpayee in a still from 'Gul Mohar'
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Sharmila Tagore and Manoj Bajpayee in a still from ‘Gul Mohar’ Photo credit: PTI

A brilliant piece of family drama driven by recognizable characters and well-crafted performances, Gulmohar Similar to the type of tree that is pruned more regularly than the gardener’s water. It looks good but doesn’t always feel right.

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Dysfunctional families provide rich material for cinematic narratives. The life of the quarrelsome Butters is no different but they do so with the remarkable restraint of upper-class Delhi. No overtly dramatic flourishes, just life as it is. As their Gulmohar villa is being taken down to be elevated, the family meets for one last party before the packers and movers take over. However, over the course of the ghazals and chatter, their relationship unfolds on contrasting notes and one is immersed in their tumultuous present and tumultuous past. The postcards of memories are riddled with secret messages on destiny that director and co-writer Rahul V. Chatela conveys to us.

Gulmohar (Hindi)

Director: Rahul V Chatela

The cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Sharmila Tagore, Amul Palikar, Simran, Suraj Sharma

Run time: 131 minutes
Abstract: As the Batra family prepares to move from their family home to a new place, broken relationships come to light.

Chatela has helped Mira Nair in the past and one can feel her voice. Monsoon Wedding I Gulmohar. Instead of the marriage that ensues here, the rift in the family comes to the fore when the Batras decide to shift from their family residence to a new abode. A house shift becomes an opportunity to clear the web of relationships. Beyond the mainstream, Chatela and co-author Arpita Mukherjee reflect on changes in the social class that served the wealthy and point to the role of ideological shifts in responses to family politics. In family head Kusum, her son Arun, and brother-in-law Sudhakar, we could see three visions of the world, and a fourth, in the form of her grandson Aditya, is a work in progress.

It’s good to see the veteran Sharmila Tagore back on screen after nearly a decade and charming her way through an eclectic ensemble with ease in a role tailor-made for her. As a progressive woman Kusum, she has neither faded from the past nor retreated from conservative tradition. The dimples are intact and so is the grace. More importantly, his performance has not become history.

Manoj Bajpayee has an innate ability to open up the innermost parts of a character’s mind and heart on screen. Here, as Kasam’s son Arun, he squeezes out the emotional pent-up that Arun has been carrying for years when his deceased father’s will suddenly pricks up his hidden anxieties and fears. Bajpai has a real sense of the knots that the middle class puts under a hard-working persona and his scenes with Tagore are a treat to watch.

A few weeks later Farzi, Amul Palikar as Kasam’s self-seeking brother-in-law, delivers another effective turn, this time obscured by shades of grey. But to my surprise, Simran as a house brick can bear more weight than its tensile strength. The way she navigates between her domineering mother-in-law and strict but complex husband is relatable.

The small cast isn’t bad either, especially Shanti Balachandran as the housekeeper Reshma, considering she isn’t given much to play. Sooraj Sharma doesn’t have much to do as Arun’s son who wants to ‘start up’ in life on his own terms but can’t quite articulate them.

Sometimes, Gulmohar It gives the impression that the writers are too involved in philosophizing on life and relationships rather than letting the characters find a way out of themselves. The positioning of a same-sex relationship and an interfaith bond blossoming in the Gulmohar Villa is not intricately built into the story and is absorbed only on the surface. Sometimes, producers are more interested in creating matchups between sterling actors to experience a bit more healing rather than scratching a little more to expose wounds.

Gil Mohr is currently streaming on Disney + Hotstar.

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