Review: ‘Kapoor & Sons’ Centers on an Indian Family’s Flaws


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Fawad Khan, left, and Alia Bhat in “Kapoor & Sons — Since 1921,” a Shakun Batra film about a far-from-perfect family in Coonoor, India.

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Fox Star Studios

Kapoor & Sons — Since 1921” isn’t about the dynastic family of Hindi movie directors, actors and producers. But it does star one of them, Rishi Kapoor (son of Raj, father of Ranbir), who heavily (and skillfully) made up plays Dadu, the about-to-be-90 paterfamilias of a clan made unhappy by the usual secrets and lies and long-cherished grudges.

Directed by Shakun Batra, the movie starts as a comedy of family dysfunction. Dadu, who enjoys playacting his death, has a real heart attack. That brings home — to Coonoor, a hill station in the state of Tamil Nadu — his diasporic grandsons: Rahul, a successful novelist from London, and Arjun, an aspiring novelist from New Jersey. Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra), angry at his brother for stealing his ideas, feels like a chronic also-ran, and with good reason. Rahul (Fawad Khan) is frequently proclaimed the perfect son by his mother.

That older generation has its own agita. Papa (Rajat Kapoor, but not one of those Kapoors) has money trouble, and all signs point to him having an affair. Mama (Ratna Pathak) is restless and angry.

Mr. Batra, whose previous films include “Ek Main aur Ekk Tu,” has a naturalist’s feel for character and situations that’s unusual in mainstream Bollywood. Even though “Kapoor & Sons” goes from lightly comic to more darkly dramatic to pretty overtly melodramatic, it never loses its lived-in quality or plunges into the absurd.

That’s a tribute to its actors, who make their characters’ wounds palpable but don’t play them too broadly. (Rishi Kapoor, though, has a high old hammy time as the pot-smoking, porn-approving, a-little-too-cute Dadu.) It’s also a tribute to Mr. Batra and Ayesha Devitre Dhillon, with whom he wrote the script. They know how to press the story without pressing it too hard.

It helps that the movie plays against expectations, if gently. The foreign-returned grandsons here aren’t swaggering wheeler-dealers in need of lessons about humility and home. They’re writers who need to repair relations with their family. Rahul’s secret is also a bit unusual for Hindi movies, and though you may guess it early, it plays out in a mostly satisfying way. When I saw the movie, the audience rewarded it with Bollywood’s gold standard of approval: tears, and a few hoots.

“Kapoor & Sons — Since 1921” is not rated. It is in Hindi, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 17 minutes.

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