Synopsis – Tormented with his ‘under-privileged’ societal status, a father capitalizes on his son’s newfound fame as a boy-genius. Little does he realize that the secret he harbors will destroy the very thing he loves the most.
My Take – Having grown in the Indian education system and often criticized for being an average academic student for 12 years, I completely relate to how the methodology of only praising the ones who top classes, based solely on their memorization skills rather than application, cause the others students of a classroom feel trivial in comparison.
Completely ignoring the fact that every child is born to be special in their own way and they do deserve support, if not applause, for building their persona. Then of course there is the parental pressure, as every parent possibly believes their child is a genius, irrespective of the obvious tell signs, and remain rigid about how their kin shouldn’t go through their hardships. But what if do see this signs, and yet hatch a plan to make the world believe otherwise especially the hackneyed education system?
Here, director Sudhir Mishra in his latest film, which is based on author Manu Joseph‘s 2010 book, brings his version of the answer in the form of an impactful and layered film which touches upon many pertinent issues, mostly with satire, while also commenting on the regressive caste and class divide in the Indian society.
And to get his message across more sufficiently he allows Nawazuddin Siddiqui to be himself i.e. relatable, believable and grounded. Making this latest Netflix original, without a doubt, a crisp and sharp entertaining experience from start to finish.
The story follows Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a middle-aged Dalit of Tamil descent, who works as an assistant to Dr. Arvind Acharya (Nassar), an astrophysicist and the Brahman director of National Institute of Theory and Research. However, despite working for a reputed institution, like most middle class residents of Mumbai, he lives in chawl with his wife, Oja (Indira Tiwari) and their young son Adi (Aakshath Das). Outraged and frustrated with his current condition, Ayyan is determined to make a better life for his Adi, and in order to do so he decides to start early by
coaxing up an outrageous story that his 10-year-old is a genius. Using his sharp mind to coax up stories and situations for Adi to shine in, with the young lad following his father’s instruction to the tee, Ayyan’s plan turns into an instant success. However, things begin to complicate when the excessive media coverage brings Adi to the attention of Dalit leader Keshav Dhawre (Sanjay Narvekar) and his daughter Anuja (Shweta Basu Prasad), a young politician who wants to turn the young boy into a brand to make her way among the masses.
Here, director Sudhir Mishra, who returns to direction after quite some time, seems like his natural self, telling a story which is real, rooted and can be related by people from all classes and all age groups. He aptly uses his expertise in dealing with the socio-political issues of the Indian society in the film. The class divide, caste system, domestic violence and poverty are not just the plot points of the story but are presented as important characters in the story. And yes, it doesn’t offer a heavy-handed take on the caste structure.
It tells a story by lightly jabbing on different topics and lets the viewer draw his own conclusions. Though he stays close to the original story’s skepticism about the idea of a just society, he has made the film his own by infusing an indomitable spirit and a certain kind of cleverness in the storytelling. It paints everyone and everything with shades of grey.
A top scientist tries to cut corners because he’s afraid the government might cut-up his funding. A young politician doesn’t mind taking advantage of a certain situation to make her way among the masses. At the same time, she doesn’t want to play the Dalit-victim card when it comes to her personal life. A school run by Christian management is shown offering incentives to poor parents if they convert. A junior scientist sleeps with her boss because she knows it can lead to advancement and is pragmatic enough to know he’ll never divorce his wife. Everyone wants to get ahead by hook or crook. As one character in the film puts it, caste doesn’t matter if you’re poor. It’s a race between the haves and the have nots.
In fact, to call this film, only a satire is not enough. It’s more real than reality in a unique way. It’s that aspirational trait in us that forces us to take the dangerous route. And how a father is compelled to do whatever he can due to a childhood memory of his is something that makes everyone feel relatable when the climax of the film unfolds. Even though the film hadn’t been promoted too much, and a lot was not being expected out of it, it’s really a breath of fresh air, and a huge part of it can be accredited to the smooth writing and direction.
However, despite impressive intent and execution, director Mishra’s film is not without its faults. For example, the storytelling tends to get weighed down by melodrama as Ayyan’s acquisitiveness grows and turns Adi into a helpless scapegoat or sorts. Along with sketches of the media, and the opportunistic educated class who don’t escape stereotypes.
Nevertheless, the film benefits from good acting by every cast member. As always, Nawazuddin Siddiqui carries the film on his shoulders, as the actor has no match when it comes to his proficiency in playing middle-class characters with extraordinary capabilities. Indira Tiwari impressively Ayyan’s portrays her wife role, who is submissive to her dominant husband’s ways, but who ultimately comes on her own.
Aakshath Das is a child genius indeed, with his performance in the first 20 minutes of the film particularly standing out. Seasoned actors like as Nassar and Sanjay Narvekar act as perfect props, while Shweta Basu Prasad once again manages to shine in her role. On the whole, ‘Serious Men’ is an exceptional comedy drama which uses its subtle satire to raise deeply rooted questions.
Directed – Sudhir Mishra
Rated – PG
Run Time – 114 minutes