Funny and heartbreakingly real family drama
Anyone who has sat through a dysfunctional family dinner will be able to relate to the pathos, humor, and love in this realistic drama.
Two brothers, one living in London (Rahul), the other living in New Jersey (Arjun), receive news from back home that their grandfather has suffered a heart attack. The guys return to India and straight back into old family dynamics. Rahul is the successful elder brother who can do no wrong, while Arjun is the screw-up who can’t seem to get his life together.
When Arjun falls for a girl in town (Tia), another wrench gets thrown into the brothers’ already strained relationship. Add to that mom and dad’s rocky marriage and you’ve got all the elements for a disastrous family reunion—one that will bring to light painful truths that have been kept secret for too long.
Family dramas are as old as Bollywood itself. But typically, families in Bollywood are large, happy, and constantly singing and dancing together. In the case of “Kapoor & Sons,” though, writer-director Shakun Batra has created a family that is realistic and relatable. Their subtle interactions—layered with habitual patterns, years of resentment, and unresolved feelings—are palpable to anyone who’s gone home for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
With all its nuance, “Kapoor & Sons” tackles some weighty issues, including betrayal and infidelity, but its most significant contribution to Indian cinema is that it’s the first mainstream, glossy Bollywood movie to portray a gay character in a lead role. That’s no small feat in a country where homosexuality is still illegal. Being gay is the ultimate taboo in India. It’s a topic that’s rarely even discussed—and Bollywood is no exception. For an industry that has churned out tens of thousands of movies, I can count on one hand the major films that have featured LGBT characters.
The irony is, India has an ancient culture that was actually accepting of homosexuality. Remember, this is the land that brought us the Kama Sutra. Sacred Hindu texts dating back thousands of years tell stories of characters who have a range of sexual orientations and gender identities—and they were fully accepted, even revered, for it. Unfortunately, when the British arrived in India, they brought with them their Victorian morals, which condemned homosexuality—writing the laws that are still upheld in India today. After a century of colonialism, these repressive and bigoted beliefs have been embraced in Indian culture and mistakenly ascribed to Hinduism.
That’s why a film like “Kapoor & Sons” is so groundbreaking. The gay character in this film is a fully rounded person, with problems and faults that have nothing to do with his sexuality. And the family’s response to his secret is incredibly realistic. Western viewers may find that the film “tiptoes” around the subject, but from an Indian perspective, this film is a radical step to furthering dialogue within the country. The response to the movie is testament to that. “Kapoor & Sons” was met with very little controversy. In fact, it became one of the biggest hits of the year by painting a picture of a family that audiences could truly identify with.
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ratna Pathak, Rajat Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor
Director: Shakun Batra
Writers: Ayesha Devitre Dhillon, Shakun Batra
Read more about my favorite Bollywood films in Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films by Sri Rao (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).
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