Gulmohar: Niche ambition robs film of depth, brevity

Sharmila Tagore, Simran and Manoj Bajpayee in Gulmohar. Photo: Trailer Video Grab 

Some films, from concept to release, are aimed at a niche segment of audiences and hunger also for critical appreciation. Everything about Gulmohar—from story to performers—is designed and chosen accordingly, and there is no ambition to deliver its message(s) wide, or appeal to a broad-spectrum.

Gulmohar (a flower’s name that refers here to the home of the dysfunctional family that has lived in this house for 34 years) is one such movie. Director and co-writer Rahul V. Chittella pulls out all stops to cater to this chosen (as per his thoughts) OTT audience across the globe (again as perceived!). Sadly, in India, the film’s home ground, the audience will remain extra niche! But so what? After all, it’s less about substance and audience appeal nowadays and more about economic returns, anyway!

For one, he brings in Manoj Bajpayee, intrepid actor known universally, especially for such films and roles. He then ropes in the veteran grand dame Sharmila Tagore in a “progressive” role as a feisty grandmother and—guess what!—for the umpteenth time in home viewing television, she has been a lesbian. Of course, she was forced to marry a man and has, of course, become a mother.


The film begins with her family’s last night in the house that she has now sold to a developer. But, even as she springs it on her unsuspecting family that she intends to move from Gurugram to far-off Puducherry to live alone and for herself, she also wants that the clan remain together for another four days to celebrate Holi for one last time together within Gulmohar.

The gay angle is then extended to another generation, with grandma’s tacit approval, and there is also a cantankerous uncle (Amol Palekar) with an agenda. There are frictions and differences of opinion even otherwise, but the Holi celebrations happen anyway. Alongside, there is the near-frustrating inter-communal (Ahhh…that ‘progressive’ angle again!) love story between the servants. The mega-punch comes from the fact that the son of the family (Manoj Bajpayee) is adopted!

And the emotional angle comes from the uncle’s son (Anuraag Arora in the film’s finest performance, if you don’t just see the length of his role) who differs from his manipulative father over the property’s ownership rights. Of course, grandma’s agenda is there too—her ex-flame from school resides in Puducherry!

Somewhere in the paragraphs above, if you concentrate and know your cinema-of-this-ilk, you will be able to figure out the graph of the story and screenplay. As with umpteen such films before this, therefore, I am compelled to say that the heart of the film (if the stereotypes of such “neo-realistic” cinema were axed) is in the right place. The art, sadly, isn’t, in its ambition to cater to that miniscule segment it is openly targeting.

Sans the wrong kind of inclusions, a Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee would have made a gripping family social out of this, with depth infused in this slice-of-life story. And with the base material at hand, they would have even made the story crisper. And—let’s not forget their forte—probably embellished the movie with good music, not the dull songs we get to hear this time.

The only area where the director does score is in getting some good performances from most of the cast. Sharmila Tagore, returning after her forgettable cameo in the 2010 Break Ke Baad, proves that her absent phase has not rusted her acting skills. Manoj is low-profile in the film and scores high too, while Amol Palekar makes a better mark here than in the recent Farzi. Jatin Goswami as Jeetu leaves an impression, and so do Kaveri Seth and Utsavi Jha. Simran is excellent as Manoj Bajpayee’s wife.

Wish the film had made an impression too, with its fresh base story about an ancestral property and an adopted progeny’s inheritance rights—aspects that are close to real life.

Rating: **

Disney+ Hotstar present Star Studios’, Autonomous Works’ & Chalkboard Entertainment’s Gulmohar Produced by: Vikesh Bhutani, Rahul V. Chittella & Shujaat Saudagar Directed by: Rahul V. Chittella Written by: Rahul V. Chittella & Arpita Mukherjee Music: Siddhartha Khosla & Alan Demoss Starring: Sharmila Tagore, Manoj Bajpayee, Simran, Suraj Sharma, Amol Palekar, Kaveri Seth, Talat Aziz, Utsavi Jha, Danish Sood, Anuraag Arora, Devika Shahani, Sriharsh Sharma, Vinod Nagpal, Tanvi Rao, Kanishk Seth, Deepak Bagga, Nargis Nandal, Chandan Roy, Jatin Goswamy, Santhy Balachandran & others




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