(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Fri 22 Sep 2023, 4:12 PM
Watching The Great Indian Family (TGIF) gives rise to one thought: for how long should one applaud average story-telling, simplistic narratives and convenient plot coincidences solely because they are well-intentioned? A few weeks back, we overlooked Jawan's monster-sized cinematic loopholes because it had style, pizzazz and a significant (some would say, brave) idea delivered with aplomb by a certain Shah Rukh Khan.
The Great Indian Family makes the same demand from us. The crux of Vicky Kaushal's family entertainer is an issue that has polarised India – Hindu-Muslim disunity. It talks about religion bravely, mentions words that have dominated WhatsApp chats and newsroom debates, and preaches about communal harmony. Much needed, no doubt, but the problem is that these extremely sensitive topics get the typical Bollywood, colour-washed treatment robbing them of their nuance or complexities. Thus, it's hard to take it seriously.
TGIF uses the super safe route to liberal, progressive thinking – a family comedy-drama set in the Indian heartland. Writer-Director Vijay Krishna Acharya zooms in on a fictitious town Balrampur (which looks curiously like Varanasi) where we are introduced to Ved Vyas Tripathi aka Billu aka Bhajan Kumar (Vicky Kaushal), a happy-go-lucky devotional singer and son of a respected Hindu priest (Kumud Mishra). Circumstances lead him to enter a Muslim-dominated area in his town. It's a culture shock for our devout Hindu boy but while ghettoisation is a sad reality of our times, here it is played out for laughs. It's okay because through Billu's discovery of India, the director perhaps wanted to convey the message that beyond the clothes, colours, modes of greeting and food, Hindus and Muslims share the same DNA.
All is well in Billu's life until an earth shattering revelation about the possibility of him being a Muslim tears his family apart. How does he deal with his identity crisis? Will his once-loving family accept him? What impact does it have on a divided society?
The story of TGIF presented many interesting possibilities – what if, an extremely religious Hindu or Muslim, taught to 'otherise' and discriminate, actually belongs to that 'other community'? It could have been an indepth and even layered exploration of religion and identity but writer-director Vijay Krishna Acharya stays at the top of the sugarcoated layer. The film steers clear of any politics and takes care not to be offensive to anyone. Instead, the focus is on the families and some half-hearted villains in the form of a competitive priest and his son.
And that's a pity because there are references galore to the real villains in the entire issue – bigotry, fake news spread by social media, inherent biases and manipulations. It gives fleeting mentions to terms like Anti-Romeo squad, 'ghar wapsi', 'anti-national' etc. but that's as far as its politics goes.
The rest looks and feels synthetic. What feels real is Vicky Kaushal's sincere performance. He is charming, goofy and extremely likeable even in an under-developed role. Among the supporting cast, only Manoj Pahwa as a prejudiced uncle and Kumud Mishra as his humane father make an impression. Manushi Chillar, with a blue streak in her hair, is just there as eye candy.
In the Tripathi family, all issues are resolved through a ballot box, unimaginatively called 'democracy'. Perhaps it's the director's metaphoric plea to restore the true essence of democracy. And in the climax, Billu gives a rousing speech on religious unity that turns the tide in his favour with the end credits featuring a song with all parties singing together on the need for harmony. Sigh, if only real life was a Bollywood film!
Rating: 2.5 stars
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