Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji writes a critical review on the film, "The Great Indian Family"

Nov 26, 2023 - 14:03
Nov 26, 2023 - 13:56
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Image: Film Poster

How “great” is the “Indian Family”? Ask production houses like Rajashree Films, Karan Johar’s films and Yashraj Films and they will offer you more than a dozen answers in and through many more films. Slowly, however, they seem to be deliberately loosening their grip over family melodrama to ve­­nture into something that reaches beyond the ‘happy family’ scenario which was so very sweet and syrupy that it could easily have given diabetes who do not suffer from it and increase the sugar content in the blood for those who are already diabetic. So, if Sooraj Kumar Barjatya brought forth an Uunchai after a long hiatus from direction, then Aditya Chopra who heads Yash Raj Films, tried to experiment with a strong message through a very conventional, “happy family” scenario coated with a message hidden under layers of lots of songs, a couple of dance numbers, a bit of modern romance and a very interesting protagonist named Ved Vyas Tripathi alias Bhajan Kumar (Vicky Kaushal) who is narrator and also the light-hearted, song-heavy hero who confronts a critical issue around the middle of the film and begins to question his filial loyalties on the one hand and an answer to his existential identity crisis on the other.


The film opens with a glitteringly picturised, over-glamorous song-dance number through a hep-styled song pretending to be a ‘bhajan’ as our hero is named Bhajan Kumar because he happens to be a talented and very popular  and fun-loving bhajan singer in this small town. He is also a very obedient son of his father, Pandit Siyaram Tripathi (Kumud Mishra), a highly respected Hindu  Pandit (priest) of the fictitious town called Balrampur where everyone seems to know everyone else and where the Tripathis have been living for years. Whenever his father has to perform some pooja or marriage or thread ceremony, Bhajan Kumar livens up the proceedings with his own song-dance “bhajans”dressed as glamorously in shimmering wear dancing away to his songs. Bhajan Kumar falls in love with a Sikh girl Jasmeet Chauhan (Manushi Chillar) who uses her fists, hands and body to bash up men she does not like or who she suspects of stalking or teasing girls but becomes fond of Bhajan Kumar all the same. Then, when Tripathi-ji leaves for his annual pilgrimage, all hell breaks loose on the Tripathi family as a stranger comes and hands them a deadly letter which reveals the deadly secret about Bhajan Kumar’s birth who fights with his uncle Balaram Tripathi (Manoj Pehwa) and walks out of the house. Bhajan Kumar whose nickname is Billu learns, to his great shock that by birth, he is Muslim. Now, what does he do with this new piece of information? That brings an interesting turn to the narrative revolving almost entirely around Bhajan Kumar fleshing out the twists and turns in his life.


A close friend of Bhajan Kumar unwittingly leaks the news to the local social media and everything is almost at once put across on local you tube and other channels so the entire neighbourhood learns to its shock, that Bhajan Kumar is actually a Muslim by birth. An angry and embittered Bhajan leaves his ancestral home and takes shelter in the home of his Muslim friend. With these twists and turns, the narrative takes almost a 180-degree turn and by the time Tripapthi-ji finishes his pilgrimage and comes back, Bhajan Kumar’s life and his family’s respect have both gone for a toss. But of course the production house cannot permit the story to end in tragedy or with even a slightly negative slant. So, in comes melodrama with the long speech Bhajan Kumar makes in a public function called by his father’s rival Mishraji in the pooja business, and his devious son who see to it that the and the communal harmony among Hindus and Muslims living in separated ghettos, vanish into thin air like some magician waving his wand over the meeting.


Vijay Krishna Acharya who has written and directed the film, has also tried his hand at family melodrama perhaps for the first time, after his super success with Dhoom 3, the final film in the Dhoom franchise and one must give him the credit for giving us a slightly above-average film filled with masala entertainment. The editing is quite in keeping with the rapid-fire change of scene from a street corner tea shop to a roadside chit-chat spent more in ogling young girls, to a somewhat artificial ‘friendship’ with a Muslim family where one member is a regular actor in Hindu religious jatras, to cut back often to the Tripathi mansion where Siyaram Tripathiji holds a ‘democratic’ vote in every family decision but the final clincher is always decided by Tripathi himself. So much for the “democratic vote.” Another metaphor used by Bhajan Kumar is the snakes-and-ladders game through which he finally discovers that the basic philosophy of family relationships is presdent in this apparently simple board game. The music is too much on the loud side which intends to be in keeping with the spirit of the film but begins to jar after a point of time. Manushi Chillar as the ‘shrew’ who falls in love with Bhajan Kumar is also loud and is less than physically attractive. Vicky Kaushal is very good but he is far better in other films. Kumud Mishra as his father gives the best performance in the film. He is dignified, silent, regal and yet dictatorial.  The cameo roles are more interesting than the chief actors except stellar performers like Manoj Pehwa who plays Bhajan’s pet uncle fond of sweets.


Yashraj Films are famous for their pomp and show and song and dance for decades now. It was founded 53 years ago and has produced and distributed dozens of films over the years, launching directors, actors, music directors and many talents who later became famous in their respective fields. It has also founded its own music company and established ties with international film companies for many films. The company is known for its great ability to change with the changing tastes of the Indian audience. Romance, family bonding infused with a lot of melodrama, song, dance and loud flourishes, shooting in foreign locations has surprisingly now come up with a delightful entertainer in the name and style of The Great Indian Family. It was to have a theatrical release but it has now been released on Amazon Prime Video. The Great Indian Family is an enjoyable film with a social agenda that propagates communal harmony at a time when communal feelings are highly sensitive in the country is more than welcome. But a theatrical release would certainly have pushed up the ideology of  the film.


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