Dir. Gauri Shinde
Dir. Gauri Shinde
Dir. Shakun Batra
I have a good friend whose family is in the habit of lying to one another and keeping secrets. Don't tell my sister that my other sister's son is gay - it will kill her. Don't let your brother find out about that trip abroad you're planning - he will be furious. Don't tell mom I'm seeing someone - she will ask a million questions. This is their default mode of interaction, concealing the truth to stave off direct confrontation. And all too often when the truth does come out, it is that much more explosive for being compounded with deception.
This is not to criticize my friend's family - to paraphrase Tolstoy, each dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way, and more of us than not have something unhealthy in our families' interaction. But before the end credits of Kapoor and Sons were done, I had pulled out my phone and texted my friend. "You ought to see it," I said. Because this film is about a family where everyone keeps secrets from everyone else. Though it's clear from the start that the family bricks are held together by lots of love, the mortar is cracked and pitted. And when the secrets start pouring out, the entire structure crumbles.
The family gathers when its elderly patriarch (Rishi Kapoor) has a heart attack, and almost immediately the knives come out. The early scenes are staged effectively with brisk wit as barbs fly across their kitchen table. The marriage of Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and Sunita (Ratna Pathak) is on the edge of a meltdown. The couple is dogged by money troubles, and Sunita openly accuses Harsh of having an affair. Of their sons, Rahul (Fawad Khan), a successful author living in London, is the golden boy who can do no wrong, while Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra), an aspiring author and bartender in New Jersey, is the family loser.
Even more than in the recent Dil Dhadakne Do, which also extracted comedy from family tensions, these characters - with the possible exception of Harsh - are deeply sympathetic and likable. Writers of fiction say that success requires being cruel to your characters even though you love them. Likewise, Kapoor and Sons makes you like its characters before doing awful things to them, and the result is deeply effective. Both young men chafe at their roles in the family hierarchy. Fawad Khan and Sidharth Malhotra are both very gentle and appealing as actors, and each renders his character with his own hue of vulnerability. Rahul is uncomfortable with his favored position in the family, and assuages the guilt of it with solicitousness toward his brother and with attempts to solve all the family's problems; he arranges one-on-one chats with each of his parents, imploring them to treat each other with more kindness and patience. When Harsh thoughtlessly invites the woman Sunita suspects is his lover to the family home for a party, Rahul attempts to defuse the fight by claiming responsibility for inviting her. For Arjun's part, he mistrusts his brother's offers of kindness, and takes his parents' constant critiques with adolescent petulance. Only once the depth of betrayal he perceives becomes too much to bear does his hurt become explosive.
Sunita, too, is affecting and sympathetic, the only woman in this tempest of masculine resentment. Sunita longs to establish a catering business, and Harsh's dismissal of the idea comes from a bitter mixture of financial fear, disrespect for Sunita's acumen, and wounded pride. Yet Sunita is not innocent; she hounds Harsh relentlessly, and her own pride causes a furious response when Harsh suggests borrowing money from his own brother. Sunita bears the most difficult burden as well, when the secrets begin to emerge; her own secret is perhaps the most terrible and damaging to the family foundation, and her reaction to Rahul's revelation is devastating. Is it the lie that hurts or the truth, Rahul asks Sunita, and there is no answer. Even in this film packed with engaging and emotional performances, Ratna Pathak is a show-stealer.
At a slight remove from the emerging disaster is the patriarch, Rahul and Arjun's Dadu, an adorably rakish old man. Dadu spends the first part of the film in the hospital, where Arjun shows him how to access porn on his iPad; he is not at home to witness the growing tension. Even on the day the family shit finally hits the fan, Dadu doesn't hear much of it; he sits perplexed on the lawn outside the house, waiting for the family to gather for the portrait he dreams of having taken, while the storm of Harsh and Sunita, Rahul and Arjun swirls through the rooms of the house. But Dadu is not so much marginal to the disagreements as he is above them. In the end, when Dadu implores the family to set aside their arguments and come together for his sake and theirs, he does not act as mediator or arbitrator. He never weighs in on the substance of their disagreements. Dadu is not there to say who is right or who should apologize to whom; he is there to say that none of it matters.
If you press me to find some flaws in the film - and it's not an easy task - I'd have to point to the moments when it veers a little too close to family-movie cliche; the sudden illness that brings the far-flung family together is a tired device, and the sudden tragedy toward the end even more so. And then there is the matter of Alia Bhatt, who is in fact a fine performer (someone pointed out to me how like she is to her mother, Soni Razdan), but through no fault of her own, still looks far too young, like a teenager playing with makeup. Here she has some sexual tension with both brothers, and she doesn't pair well opposite two men who look, and are, in their thirties. And for a final quibble, there is no need to obscure Rishi Kapoor's face behind effects makeup; he's old enough, and cute enough, to have played Dadu as he is. But these are minor, minor complaints. Kapoor and Sons is a lovely film. I can't wait to find out what my friend and her family think of it.
दम लगाके हईशा
Dir. Sharat Katariya
Let me start with what I do like about Dum Laga Ke Haisha: its lead woman, Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar). I can think of vanishingly few characters like this one, not just in Hindi films but in western popular narratives as well. Sandhya is a smart, with a modest but sincere ambition to be a schoolteacher. She is confident, giving as good she gets when her family or her in-laws give her a hard time. (One friend on Twitter taught me the expression "muh-tod type" to describe her.) And she is kind and patient, doing all she can to give her marriage to Prem (Ayushmann Khurana) a fair chance to succeed.
She is also overweight. And the way Dum Laga Ke Haisha handles Sandhya's weight is exceptional. It doesn't pretend she's not overweight - it doesn't pretend that Sandhya's lived experience as a woman in a chubby body is the same as any typical slim heroine's. But the film doesn't judge her for it, either. When characters comment about her weight, the comments serve to show the smallness of the character, not to get the audience laughing at the fat girl. Jokes about her body are offered as mean, not as funny. And, in a very true-to-life that many overweight women can identify with, Sandhya both steels herself against them and is wounded by them.
Physical type aside, Sandhya shows an impressive maturity and commitment in her approach to life, while never forgetting that she is entitled to get something out of the bargain. Dum Laga Ke Haisha is set in the mid-90s, a time when Hindi films were often still peppered with dialogue about how suffering and sacrifice is a woman's lot (this came up in 1994's Anjaam, for example). But Sandhya isn't having any of that. She wants to do what is right, which in her world is to be a good wife, supporting her husband and keeping him happy. But she refuses to subsume her entire self, to subjugate any desires and needs of her own, for the sake of the bharatiya-nari ideal. She is committed to making a serious effort at this. She tries more than one tack to make her marriage work, but she's only willing to beat her head against a wall for so long. When her efforts go unrewarded - and worse, when Prem outright insults her for them - Sandhya shifts her focus to taking care of herself, to finding a new life path without Prem. She even initiates divorce proceedings, an astonishingly bold move in a conservative community. The result is of all of this is that Sandhya is a terrific character, remarkably portrayed. She is real, likable, and flawed (that tongue can be a bit sharper than is called for). It is so easy to get behind Sandhya, to be invested in her and to care what happens to her.
And because I care what happens to Sandhya, Dum Laga Ke Haisha fails for me as a romance. I just can't stand to see her saddled with Prem, as dour, unappreciative a jerk as ever was the hero of a movie.* Crumpling spinelessly under pressure from his parents, Prem marries Sandhya early in the film, and then sulks like an angry five-year-old through all her game efforts to connect with him. In the first two thirds of the movie, Prem insults Sandhya, and alienates his family, his friends, and even his mentor. All of them offer him advice in the direction of pulling up his big-boy chaddees and acting like a decent adult. But Prem is too self-absorbed to do that kind of work, and too shallow; his main objection to Sandhya (whom he did consent to marry, after all) is that she's fat. He is an all-around odious and unpleasant person.
When I complained of this on Twitter, someone asked, is it necessary to like the main characters to like a movie? The answer depends strongly upon the movie. Satirical comedies are often populated by awful people, and many a gangster movie centers on an anti-hero. But for a romance, likable principals are an absolute necessity. In a romance, the conclusion is foregone: one way or the other, the couple will end up together. The pleasure of a romance lies not in the whether but in the how; the journey is everything. So that journey had better be in the company of people you enjoy spending time with. And, of course, you have to want the couple to get together. If you can't root for the success of the pairing, watching a romance is an irritation, not a diversion.
With its petulant, obnoxious hero and a heroine who deserves far, far better, Dum Laga Ke Haisha becomes a frustrating ride. And even if Prem does undergo some character development - which he arguably does, though I'll have more to say below about the facile device that demonstrates this - it weights the dynamic part of the story toward Prem, when Sandhya is the better and more interesting character to watch. An annoying brat realizes he's been an idiot, and a gutsy, interesting woman who was all ready to strike out on her own decides instead to forgive him for having been an annoying brat. That's just not an enormously satisfying story arc.
As for that device by which Prem finally proves his readiness to contribute some effort to his marriage: It's not so much that after avoiding cheap fat jokes, the film culminates in a contest in which Prem must literally hoist Sandhya's extra weight on his back. The movie handles that with some dignity and steers clear of body-shaming Sandhya right until the end. It's more that the symbolism of the wife-carrying contest itself gives me indigestion. I can't get behind the metaphoric notion that a woman is a dead-weight burden that her husband must bear. For Dum Laga Ke Haisha to use this, of all metaphors, to represent what Prem must do to shoulder the burdens of adulthood and contribute to his own marriage is discomfiting, not cute as the movie was going for. And it short-changes one of the most interesting and deserving heroines I have ever seen.
* Ayushmann Khurana might be making a career out of such characters; I had similar problems with Vicky Donor.
Dir. Sriram Raghavan
I've watched a lot of movies lately but haven't put together a post on one in a while. I'll fix that sooner or later. In the meantime, here is another chat between me and Beth about a violent movie that we watched together.
Beth and I cover a lot of territory in this chat, from the exploitative aspects of portraying toxic masculinity, to manipulation, to righteous and anti-righteous vengeance in films, to grief and forgiveness. Those last two topics reflect Badlapur at its most thought-provoking and compelling.
One thing that Beth and I talked about while we watched that did not make it explicitly into our post-film redux captured below is whether Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) gains in sympathy even as Raghu (Varun Dhawan) becomes more and more sociopathic and less and less sympathetic. I rather felt a smidge of sympathy with Liak in the last third, though he clearly had made some despicable choices and remained manipulative and twisted his entire life. It seemed to me that toward the end Liak at least acknowledges that he has done horrendous things, where Raghu is on a rampage with a broad swath and doesn't have much interest in nuances of right and wrong. And it is Liak, not Raghu, who notes that there's not so much difference between the two men. I don't think that Beth shared my view of Liak; she pointed out that this view only makes sense if you take the things Liak says at face value, not just more manipulation. "They're both awful," was her conclusion, and I cannot in good faith disgaree with that.
Anyway on to our chat.
Carla: Where would you like to start?
Beth: How about why we watched it?
Carla: As you know, this is a genre I normally don't expect to like much. I decided to watch Badlapur, though, because I found this year's other revenge drama, NH10, startlingly affecting. Going outside of my comfort zone for NH10 was rewarding in a way I hadn't expected. So that, combined with the great praise Badlapur had received from many, made me curious enough to give it a look.
Beth: And what had led you to watch NH10?
Carla: I have to laugh a little, because the answer is: some folks from my Hindi practice group were going, so I decided to go along with them, I'd probably watch almost anything with friends.
Beth: Watching with friends makes almost anything bearable. Except Dance Dance, as we learned the hard way.
Carla: Haha, I was just thinking about that Dance Dance day too. What made you want to watch Badlapur?
Beth: I wanted to watch it because 1) I'm trying harder to keep up with new releases this year (I have some more momentum now that we get most of the big releases in the regular multiplex), 2) I like Varun and Nawaz, 3) I like the director's other films, and 4) ditto hearing good things.
Carla: All very good reasons. I want to talk about your expectations going in, because I have been having a hard time thinking about Badlapur as the film it is, rather than the film I expected or wanted it to be.
Beth: I was in India when it came out, so I heard quite a bit about it, including from Amrita and other friends who saw it. I knew about the revenge rape and I remember there being some discussion about its treatment of women overall. So I knew it wasn't necessarily going to be a film for me, really, but I was intrigued.
Carla: I want to talk about that rape, but I also want to hear your thoughts on the broader question, the treatment of women in general in the movie.
Beth: I was saying to another friend who has also seen it that I have cautiously semi-arrived at the idea that the film is just flat-out anti-humanity in many ways, women being a subset of that.
Carla: Yes, I agree, it is very, very bleak.
Beth: I'm not sure it does much to women that it doesn't do to anyone else, with the exception of sexual violence, because of @*&%$ course it has that. And it does actually have a man sexually menace a man, sort of, doesn't it? (Note: not the same as rape.) But still, the writers made that choice, and I don't know why. It's not like they did it to be titillating as some other films do. It was just a mark of the lead's descent, I guess. But unnecessary.
Carla: I'm not convinced that they didn't put it in there just to be titillating. On the one hand, the movie is, in some ways, about male violence, about toxic masculinity. And male violence, when turned toward women, more often than not takes on the dimension of sexual violence. So the movie maybe has plausible deniability to say it's merely documenting what toxic masculinity does.
Beth: Like we don't already know! Badlapur = #YesAllMen.
Carla: On the other hand, yes, we all know this about male violence—we don't need a film to document it for us.
Beth: Just read a newspaper.
Carla: And it happens so early in the film, that I question whether it's legitimately showing descent. Indeed, my main difficulty with the film as a whole is that it never shows any descent.
Beth: So there's descent and then there's snap. The further I get from the discomfort of watching the film, the more I am willing to give it "snap."
Carla: Yes, I think that's more what it is going for—snap rather than slow burn or spiral.
Beth: It's not like this was a super upstanding man with tons of community connections etc etc. (For example, the famous commercial that he’s saying is his idea—I’m not sure if that’s just a fun pop culture reference or if the writers are setting him up as a [time-traveling] plagiarist.) He was a dudebro. And I'm not saying it's easier for dudebros to snap, but he had less far to fall on a matrix of movie heroics.
You pointed out his immediate isolation after the crime; maybe that's when it happened. He can't even look at other people.
Carla: Not just that he can't—but no one steps up to force him to.
Beth: This is not someone weeping into comforting arms (which were there for him). He is not helped by humanity.
Carla: I was shocked by that when we were watching—everyone just says "sorry, bro" and files out. His family and friends abandon him to his grief.
And I think I said to you, wow, I would not leave my friend alone at home the evening of the day he loses his wife and kid. I just would not.
Beth: Although I guess we don't know if those people are actually gone or if he just doesn't interact with them?
Carla: I suppose I'd have to watch it again, but the impression I was left with on first watch is of a lot of people patting him on the shoulder on their way out the door. Next he's alone in the kitchen with the leftovers.
Beth: Oh the leftovers—that was so sad. His parents and in-laws are around somewhere, but the result is: he has no one.
Carla: And later he voluntarily isolates himself. For 15 years. In "revengetown".
Beth: I think we discussed while watching that it's kind of too bad we don't know what happens to him in those 15 years, whether he tries to put his life back together. But again, the result is: nope, he's a wreck.
Carla: I'd say there is no evidence that he made any effort. He did nothing but stew in his own juices for that whole time. I rather wish the film had shown us some of that time. The isolation seems to have allowed him to fester and get angrier, rather than healing and gaining any distance. But we are left to speculate about it based on very little.
Beth: I assume we're not supposed to see him as particularly human either, and this stalling and isolation helps make him seem that way? Or is it a cautionary tale—if this happens to you, DO NOT CLOSE OFF or else!
Carla: He's clearly unsympathetic and, as a result at least to me, not particularly relatable.
Beth: He's awful and somehow allowed to stay that way. People who should help him do not. On this point, I reeeeeally hated Divya's character. It was interesting to write such a tone-deaf person who supposed to be kind of a care-giver, an NGO do-gooder type is actually destructive.
Carla: That is an interesting point. I had seen her through the lens of being a victim of his psychopathic manipulation.
Beth: That too. I just think that one conversation with this man is enough to show you that he is in no place to issue any mercy, and she most definitely provoked him. Not that that means she deserves to be his pawn. But he was her pawn too (for less awful purposes, obviously).
Carla: I don't agree that he was a pawn to Divya's character. To use someone as a pawn you have to have some power, and she has none.
Beth: Ok. But she sure tries. She tries to guilt him.
Carla: She is naive, and too focused on her do-gooding to think through his responses to her and what they mean. But she has no power. To the extent she can manipulate him, it's only through that application of conscience—guilt as you say. That's a very weak hand.
Beth: If she had been _his_ social worker, that would have been an utterly different scenario. As is, she waltzes in and asks him for something incredibly difficult without knowing the first thing about him. So he's her tool, not her pawn, maybe?
Carla: Sure, that's a better way to put it. She is naive and idealistic in a way that makes her insensitive.
Beth: And pushy too.
Carla: And it also makes her too trusting, which gives him the opening he needs to play her.
Beth: Let's talk about the performances. I thought they were across the board really quite good. Even if just for that, I'm glad I saw the film.
Carla: I have to say, I could watch Huma and Nawaz as a couple in anything, despite neither this nor Gangs of Wasseypur being a favorite of mine.
Beth: No age difference yuck for you? She’s 12 years younger.
Carla: Not especially; perhaps because she has a maturity about her or because he manages a certain boyish demeanor even when playing these deeply sociopathic character. Perhaps 12 years by itself would only be yuck when the woman is so young as seem girlish or ingenue-type?
Beth: I don't know. I'm not really on board with them as a concept but neither of these relationships is at all...nice or good.
Carla: No that's for sure. I just find them compelling to watch.
Beth: Totally. Both of them are great. But e.g. Deepika is the same age as Huma, and Deepika with Nawaz would just be BIZARRE. I don't know why.
Carla: That's interesting. I can't say I disagree. But Deepika has (cultivated?) a more girlish demeanor.
I have said about her before and continue to say that I am interested in her as an actor but really want to see what she does on the other side of 30. Also Deepika has a more refined quality, even when she's playing rougher-hewn women, that doesn't match well with Nawaz's physicality, maybe?
Beth: What other strengths does Badlapur have for you?
Carla: Well, we did have a little talk about forgiveness while we were watching, and as you said it's interesting that the film provoked those thoughts. Do you want to talk about that a bit more?
Beth: Sure! It's something that I have been thinking about as a result of all the just horrendous news we've had in the last few years. I really do not know what we are supposed to do at a societal or even individual level with some of the evil in the world. And for me that is what made this movie more interesting than just "BTW revenge is hollow, did you know?" To be a successful human do you have to be able to hold the concept of evil in one hand and not let it shape you to much with the other? You do not have to forgive, but you cannot give in, either? The movie ends before we know how Varun will deal with that. Revenge as a concept is less interesting to me but forgiveness is something we all have to deal with even if just in little ways.
Carla: That's true. I'm going to speculate that he deals with it badly.
Beth: I assume so.I would not be surprised if he committed suicide, actually.
Carla: Yeah, I was thinking the same. Although that song over the closing credits (tone lurchy though it was) showed him continuing in his anger and defiance.
Beth: It's pretty fascinating that a mainstream film is unafraid to have its hero left on a moral knife's edge like that. But that song is so out of place. Maybe he'll dance it out.
Beth: Debbie Allen is in the corner tapping her cane on the floor.
Carla: You raise a great point, though. I often like it when movies end with something other than facile resolution, like when a story of a troubled marriage ends on a note of hope but with implicit acknowledgement that there is a still work to be done. It's not all that common in mainstream films (of any industry).
Beth: Yeah, or all those 70s films we love where the hero actually has taken revenge and the bad guy is in handcuffs and then everyone literally lines up in a row, as though they're on stage and are taking a bow.
Carla: And so there is no resolution for him, and no note of hope either. The only constant is utter bleakness.
Beth: I tend not to like it when movies just stop rather than conclude, but it made sense here.
Carla: It was not a conclusion, but also not a mere stop either—it was a turning point, a change in his world.
Beth: It also underscores that taking revenge does not make you a better person, which is another thing movie heroes tend to sort of swim in.
Carla: There's nothing honorable about this revenge.
Carla: That was true in NH10 as well. The revenge is not so much satisfying as horrifying.
Beth: Even though he is utterly blameless in the tragedy—it's not like he was aligned with the wrong politician or even tried to save a friend who had gone off the straight and narrow and got sucked in—and it had zero meaning. Maybe that's why the revenge has no meaning? The thing it is avenging had no meaning. Hmmmm.
Carla: Well that brings us back to the Gangs of Wasseypur, the-cycle-of-violence-is-pointless idea. Everyone blind and toothless, etc.
Beth: And there it's armies, more or less, and here it's just...nothing.
Carla: The thing about Varun's character's spree is that it is not merely revenge.
Beth: More of a dismantling and erasing?
Carla: His violence extends beyond hurting the people who hurt him; he hurts the people they love, too. Yes, it's an obliteration. And that is part of what makes it totally anti-righteous, the complete opposite of classic filmi hero revenge. By coincidence I recently watched another revenge drama, an older one that is much more in the righteous revenge mode. That was Anjaam, in which Shah Rukh Khan ruins Madhuri Dixit's life after she rejects his advances, murdering her husband and framing her for the crime.
Beth: Does she take him down?
Carla: She snaps, about three-quarters of the way through the film, after enduring and enduring and enduring (with lots of talk about how enduring injustice is women's superpower).
Carla: Yes, a whole tray of them.
Beth: I was just thinking "I bet this movie was made ca. 1994" and sure enough.
Carla: She kills the (female) prison warden who had been pimping out the prisoners, she kills her brother-in-law who had just been horrible from the very beginning and eventually she also gets Shah Rukh Khan—she finds him catatonic in a hospital, and actually nurses him back to health and makes him think she has fallen in love with him just for the pleasure of knowing he has full awareness of her hatred when she kills him.
Carla: It's actually a pretty interesting dovetailing of nurturer-type womanhood with death-goddess-type womanhood.
Beth: What could be more terrifying to a Bollywood hero than a woman being maa-like and then killing him instead?
Carla: That's what is so interesting about it. She lulls him by playing into his own fantasy of how a woman, and especially this particular woman, should treat him.
Beth: That sounds pretty interesting. I like evil SRK performances a lot.
Carla: I've gotten a bit off topic talking about Anjaam but I've been thinking about how it compares to Badlapur and NH10 in its statements about revenge, especially. As it occupies that classical (for lack of a better word) space in which revenge is pure and righteous, it is a very different story from the revenge dramas of 2015, which are all about bleakness and damage. But like NH10, Anjaam shows how a good and ordinary and relatable person can turn into a bloodthirsty force, when pressed hard enough and forced to endure enough extreme suffering.
Beth: I did not see Ek Villain last year, which I mention only because it's the other recent revenge film I can think of.
Carla: I also did not. How about the end of Mardaani?
Beth: Ooooh which I liked, against my beliefs about how the real world should work.
Carla: Yes, I can see that—one of those satisfying in the movies even though it's morally wrong sorts of things.
Beth: And it to me felt very much like something 70s Amitabh would have done. Speaking of, sort of, another recent revenge movie is the Agneepath remake, which I also didn’t care for story-wise.
Carla: Another one I did not watch.
Beth: It is not a type that appeals to either of us, really. Our next movie should be something that DOES appeal to us.
Carla: AMEN. We have broadened our horizons together quite enough lately.
Carla: Anything else to say about Badlapur, to wrap?
Beth: I love that the sketch artist is led to draw Ranjeet.
Carla: That was a great moment. I don't think I can top that.
Dir. K.S. Sethumadhavan
Stories about minority communities can be engaging, especially when told with delicacy. Older movies like Pestonjee, about the grim, lonely side of life in a Parsi community, or the much lighter Baton Baton Mein's peek into a pair of Christian families, have a memorable charm and sympathy. More recently, Homi Adajania turned a darkly satirical lens on Parsis in Being Cyrus and Goan Christians in Finding Fanny. The 1970s hit Julie focuses on another minority community, the Anglo-Indian, and while it portrays some of their particular concerns, the drama of its titular character and the film's ultimate message are both more patently universal.
The most interesting character in Julie is Julie's mother, Margaret (Nadira), the stern matriarch of the teenage girl's family. Like many a Nadira character, Margaret is snappish, quick to anger, and paralyzingly conscious of her image and the regard of others. But there are nuances to this presentation that make Margaret less cartoonish than she might be. When she boasts to family friend about her English father, or her son in Delhi who sends home the finest imported goods, one might roll one's eyes. But the discomfort with which she changes the subject when the friend asks about her mother is both pathetic and sympathetic, and lends complexity to Margaret's contempt for India and Indianness, and her obsession with things foreign. Margaret feels rejected and abused by a thankless Indian society; her bitterness and the constant westward cast of her gaze are put in that perspective.
Too, Margaret bears responsibility for her several children (including a tween daughter played by Sridevi as a child artiste), while contending with a less than responsible husband, Morris (Om Prakash, as broadly comic and reliably goofy as ever). Morris embodies the filmi stereotype of Christian as good-natured drunk. (Margaret, too, drinks quite a lot, though it seems with less abandon than Morris. In a disturbing family dinner scene, Margaret and Morris both pressure young Julie to take a drink for herself, which she eventually does to please them, despite her own protestations.) As a railroad engineer, Morris is often away from home, and while is it to Margaret's endless frustration that he tends to squander his earnings, he spends on attempts to please his family at least as much as he spends on whiskey. Morris perceives Margaret's desire for a finer life, believes she deserves it, and wants to deliver it to her; he blows the family's savings on the down payment on a car - foreign, of course, as Margaret would have it no other way. And so there is a great deal of affection in this family, not just between Morris and the children on whom he dotes (especially Julie), but even, in a complex way, between Morris and Margaret, despite her nagging disapproval. The film presents this dynamic sensitively, allowing for nuance in personal relationships. The marriage of Margaret and Morris is neither a smooth ride in which love conquers all, nor a withered husk in which no tenderness remains. The natural complexity lends some dimension to the stereotypes that Morris and Margaret instantiate.
"Get the bottle, man!" That is Sridevi, on the right, and she doesn't look very happy about it.
As for Julie herself (Laxmi, the same actor who starred in the Malayalam film of which Julie is a near scene-for-scene remake), like too many young women, Julie is surrounded by males who manhandle and objectify her to varying degrees. A local shopkeeper paws at her while she picks up groceries for Margaret; because this man is played by Rajendranath I have the disturbing feeling these scenes are meant to play for comedy, but there is nothing at all funny about them. The family friend, Mr. Misra, leers repulsively at Julie in the he beginning of the film and, toward the end, attempts to buy sex from her when she asks him for a job at his firm. A boy in Julie's own Anglo-Indian community, Richard (Jalal Agha), gives her rides to school on his motorcycle, and clearly feels that this grants him possession, though Julie equally clearly rejects him as anything other than a friend. Even the young man Julie likes, Shashi (Vikram) leers at her bare legs - those Christian girls dress so much more immodestly than their Hindu peers - and eventually seduces her into his bed (though in fairness to Shashi, despite Julie's initial hesitation, the sex appears joyfully consensual).
Julie remains demurely wrapped in a blanket, but a clear shot of the girlie magazines lying open on Shashi's bed leaves nothing to the imagination.
The troubles that Julie endures - falling in love with a boy from outside her community, the disapproval of both her overbearing mother and his, a pregnancy that must be concealed lest her entire family be irreparably tarnished - are hardly unique to the Anglo-Indian experience. Indeed many an Indian film has shown young women of many religions and social classes suffering in this way. And perhaps this very universality is the message of Julie. Margaret hates and resents mainstream Indians, believing that they have marginalized and stigmatized her community. And Shashi's mother (Achala Sachdev) is comically paranoid of Christians; Shashi and his father, Bhattacharya (Utpal Dutt at his most avuncular), openly mock her contemptuous distrust of Julie and her family. The resolution of this inter-community tension is embodied in the child of Julie and Shashi's mixed and supposedly shameful union. In the end, it is Bhattacharya's voice of reason persuading both bitter, suspicious mothers that love is big enough to bridge differences between religions and communities. It's hard to imagine a more ecumenical conclusion than that.