Cast: Sharmila Tagore, Manoj Bajpayee, Simran Bagga, Suraj Sharma, Amol Palekar, Kaveri Seth, Talat Aziz, Utsavi Jha
Director: Rahul V.Chittella
OTT: Disney+ Hotstar
Rating: 3.5 Moons
Gulmohar, directed by Rahul V.Chittella, begins on a cold, winter night in Delhi. The Batras are hosting the last party at their bungalow, Gulmohar. The matriarch is Kusum Batra (Sharmila Tagore) who is living in the ancestral bungalow for over 30 years with her son Arun Batra (Manoj Bajpayee), daughter-in-law Indu (Simran Bagga), grandson Aditya (Suraj Sharma), granddaughter-in-law Divya (Kaveri Seth) and granddaughter Amu (Utsavi Jha). Just like the weather outside, the coldness between the family members can be prominently noticed.
The Batras just have a day left with each other before Arun and Indu move into their new plush apartment and Aditya and his wife Divya shift to a rental home. At this juncture, Kusum, the matriarch struggling to keep her family united, decides to continue staying in Gulmohar till Holi, a festival that holds great importance to her, the children and also her late husband. The dysfunctional family has to tolerate each other for a few more days. Will this decision of staying till Holi change the equation between the members? Gulmohar answers them with a poetic touch.
Gulmohar can be easily termed as a poetic wonder that grows on you gradually. Once you sign up for what's a life-changing journey for the Batras, there's no way to look back. What starts as a story of a fictional Delhi-based family hits the right emotional and relatability notes. Director Rahul V.Chittella, who has worked with Mira Nair on multiple projects, creates a world that sucks you into it with its simplicity, honesty and realistic touch. The melancholy has the power to choke you, but there's calmness in that as well.
The characters in Rahul's musical and visually aesthetic world might have differences among themselves but what really matters at the end of the day is we all can relate to their actions, sentiments and decisions. There's gracefulness in the way Arun reacts when he's asked to dance with his mother Kusum at the party. The unspoken rift between Arun and Aditya is as delicate as glass but the projection is rock solid. Such nuances make Gulmohar like a vibrant painting with several emotions blending to create a rare frame.
Gulmohar delves into multiple subplots and this marriage is a successful one. While the dysfunctional family is sorting out their problems, there's a parallel track that's taking place between the domestic help, a packers-n-movers guy and a staff member. It comes across as a refreshing flavour to the story. In a bid to prove himself and make an identity for himself, Aditya is battling a different war but here, nobody has to be blamed. Every character is flawed but not morally incorrect. One of the key highlights of Gulmohar is that it doesn't take sides with any one character. All of them come together and make imperfection look perfect. Even the antagonist has a valid reason for his actions.
The film rides high on symbolism. Holi is one of them. Known as the festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the beginning of spring, the Holi sequence shown in Gulmohar perfectly justifies the symbolism attached to it. Rahul catches you off-guard here with an interesting and fun twist. He makes sure you leave the film with moist eyes and a smile on your face. The director injects great wisdom and that's how this Gulmohar blooms in glory.
The flaw that one can notice in the film is how it keeps us away from getting attached to the bungalow, Gulmohar. While it focuses rightly on the residents, there's limited space to build a connection and bond with the property. Many might draw comparisons between this and Kapoor & Sons but there's individuality in both. However, certain uncanny resemblances cannot be ignored completely. While the second half keeps you glued, the first hour is less convincing.
You simply cannot doubt a film when Sharmila Tagore is headlining it. She makes her web debut and it was worth the wait. There's a dignified elegance she carries which hasn't faded away over the years. The command she has on the screen is commendable and there's no chance you can take your eyes off her. As Kusum, she's progressive, rock solid and grounded. We're manifesting a sequel to Gulmohar to explore more about Kusum.
It's Manoj Bajpayee's era and we're living in it. Yet again, he delivers a gut-wrenching performance in Gulmohar. It could make for one of the most definitive and remarkable acts ever in the history of Indian films. If you feel you've seen every side of Manoj, allow him to surprise you once again. Right from the subtle shyness that comes out of respect for his mother when he's around her, the quivering of hands and voice while reading out a letter that changes the course of the story to balancing a fragile relationship with his son, he is a master craftsman. He draws you closer to Arun with such detailing nuances.
Amol Palekar's casting is an unconventional one. After playing the honest and rightful grandfather in Farzi, he displays shades of grey in Gulmohar. He will make you hate him for all the obvious reasons but that's justified too. There's joy in hating him (his character, of course) too. Simran Bagga does a fantastic job as Indu. She's someone you will find in your neighbourhood. Suraj Sharma shines as Aditya. He's one of the most relatable and genuine characters. Kaveri Seth and Utsavi Jha leave behind an impact too. Anuraag Arora is lovable and impactful as Arun's cousin brother. Santhy, Jatin Goswami and Gandharv Dewan put up a good act.
Talat Aziz, who has a brief in Gulmohar, has sung a melodious piece for the film and the tune lingers in your mind for a long time. The music of the film is easy-flowing, soothing and comforting. The cinematography is excellent. The editing desk also leaves behind no flaws.
Gulmohar is a comforting watch with some of the finest performances. However, it takes some time to build up but trust the process. 'It is meant to be' a thoroughly interesting and engaging watch despite its serious and emotional nature.
PeepingMoon.com gives Gulmohar 3.5 Moons