The lovable chaos of family
Families have always been a lucrative source of drama. From identity crises and interpersonal relationships to issues of being too cooped up together or too spaced apart — there’s enough fodder for a new story every time. As a family drama, Gulmohar plays into this, the fact that each family and its web of relationships is completely unique to itself. The film explores the Batra family and its web with curiosity and nuance but ultimately leans a touch too dramatic and too long.
From the very first scene, it’s quite visible how the direction, cinematography and dialogues truly characterize this family drama. On the last night in their house of over 30 years (the house is now sold), the Batra family congregates. Conversations overlap, dialogues interrupt one another, and the camera pans across the house, flowing from one member to the other. With the casual air of a family get-together interspersed with underlying tensions and struggles, Gulmohar sets the tone of everyday life.
This quotidian feel of the film is polished and continues even after the oldest member of the family, Kusum Batra, declares her intention of not moving into the new apartment with the rest of them. Instead, she’s bought a house in Pondicherry and will live there. This news has the biggest effect on her adopted son, Arun, who seems intent on keeping the family together. Other conflicts in the house include Adi, Arun’s son, wanting to live separately on rent with his wife while also managing his floundering startup. Amrita, Arun’s daughter, is having her own problems with a college boyfriend. Meanwhile, Indu, Arun’s wife, seems to hold the entire household upright and functioning, despite not getting the best treatment from her mother-in-law. All of the actors do their part in offering great performances but Manoj Bajpayee, as Arun, definitely takes the cake. A special shout out to Suraj Sharma, who is as endearing as ever as Adi, and Simran for her nuanced portrayal of Indu.
The great thing about Gulmohar is all the complex themes and conflicts it brings up. Not only does it offer a keen look into father-son relationships — the lack of an emotional language, the misunderstandings, the comparison to other fathers and sons — but also mentions Delhi’s changing landscape, the role of education in uplifting the working class, queer relationships in India, and the (un)importance of blood relations.
They’re all interesting takes and ideas but the film doesn’t always do them justice. While the romance between Reshma, the maid, and Jeetu, the watchman, is sweet and heartwarming; the rest of the story doesn’t really address the power dynamics between an employer and a servant. For all the movie’s critical approach to relationships, the Batra’s in general seem to lack an awareness of their own privilege. And that doesn’t change too much towards the end.
Indu, who seems to run around all day for the family, doesn’t quite get her due in the end as well. Adi’s hesitance to rely on his wife for their financial needs is a relevant point but its conclusion is not so satisfactory. And since a number of scenes and songs drag on and on, taking up unnecessary seconds in the film, this was clearly not for a lack of time. If Gulmohar had managed not to tie up but at least address each of the threads it picked up, it would have been a near-perfect film.
As it usually goes with Bollywood, Gulmohar’s everyday-life charm also fades away towards the end. It gives way to dramatics, intense angst and melancholy music. At one point, I was sure that Arun would end up in the hospital and was only mildly relieved when he didn’t. Instead of clever setups and conversations, the movie begins to rely on long speeches peppered with clichés. I only wish the makers had enough courage to see the film through the way it was meant to be — a true glimpse into realistic, quotidian family life.
Read More: Gulmohar Ending Explained
Verdict - 7.5/10