- Gaurav Patki
- 03 May 2019
It's all about everyone's family
Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Kapoor & Sons'
KAPOOR & SONS (2016)
(Directed by Shakun Batra
Written by Shakun Batra, Ayesha DeVitre)
"A film needs a protagonist. S/he needs to have an outer goal to achieve. An antagonist must come in the way. The protagonist must struggle hard to achieve the goal. After going through a roller-coaster ride of success and failure, in the end, s/he triumphs."
The above is the general template of a film script. But what if the film doesn't have a single hero or it doesn't have a thick plot, not even an antagonist?
A dysfunctional family is one of such sub-genres where the story is not about a single hero. The entire family is at the centre. It is surprising that despite having such a strong family system in India, we don’t see this genre explored enough. The film ‘Kapoor & Sons’ falls in this space and the writer-director have managed to explore the nuances very well in the narrative.
This is the story of a family set in Coonoor. Due to a sudden medical emergency of the grandfather, both the grandsons are called from abroad and then, the story kicks in.
We know that the plot and characters are both equally important to the narrative. One can’t just override the other. But we can also find films laying their weight on either sides, while there is nothing right or wrong about it. It is the story, or maybe the genre, that drives this decision. Films like 'Kapoor & Sons' are heavy on characters. The plot is incidental, so the makers can explore the characters in the story.
The event that glues the narrative - Again, it is a commonly used trope in such stories. An incidence, be it death, birth, function or tour for which the family comes together. In ‘Dil Dhadkane Do’ it’s the 30th wedding anniversary of the parents. In ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ it’s the dance competition. There are few films of this genre like ‘Titli’ and ‘American Beauty’ which don’t use this trope. If the event is big, the dramatic value is high. ‘Kapoor & Sons’ manages to use Grandpa's heart attack and his last wish for a family-photograph, very well. The event goes with the tone of the film. It is not over-the-top, yet it manages to give the writers enough ground to create the drama.
We must know that it is a very tricky decision because when the event isn't very dramatic itself while the film isn't driven by the plot either, writers are completely dependent on the characters to bring out the drama. In such cases, characters must be written to perfection. Even a small false note will disturb the rhythm.
Kapoor & Sons works well on this front. The characters, their core conflicts, their interpersonal dynamics are explored well. From Grandpa (Rishi Kapoor) to Tia (Alia Bhatt); everybody’s part is written thoughtfully. I have some issues with the interpersonal dynamics of some of the characters, but we will come to it later.
For me, this is the biggest strength of the genre. Everybody can relate to one or the other of these characters. We all have experienced situations like siblings’ fights, favoritism between the kids, unsaid tension between the parents, happy-go-lucky oldies adding to the tension etc. The film works for me mainly because of the interpersonal dynamics of the family.
Let’s have a closer look at the characters. The older sibling, Rahul (Fawad Khan), is the responsible, focused, more successful and perfect one. The younger one, ironically named Arjun (Siddharth Malhotra), is trying to find his own voice, trying to prove himself to the parents and trying hard to get out of the older brother's shadow. A middle-aged mother (Ratna Pathak Shah), who is now free from major family responsibilities after kids have grown, wants to start her own business. The father (Rajat Kapoor) tries hard to play the patriarchal head of the family but fails miserably and tries to find solace outside the marriage. Sassy Grandpa who is still chirpy, funny but waiting to die. In spite of using archetypal traits, writers have succeeded in creating nuanced characters.
THE NARRATIVE BUILT UP
The overall visual tone of the film is not warm and fresh. It's all gloomy and clouded until the very end of the second act when it starts raining. This visual treatment is driven by the content. There is a sprinkle of humor and light moments in almost every sequence, yet it is not a happy film. The family has secrets to explode and everybody is trying to hide it under the carpet. At the end, after the outburst, the family falls apart within seconds.
Providing information to the viewer is a key element to make the story work. The information that gives the viewer context, plot hooks, character's stakes, and sometimes - the shock element. Withholding and giving away the pieces of the information is a sheer craft that holds the viewers to the film. Kapoor & Sons uses this method successfully.
As this isn’t a single protagonist’s film and the viewer is not in the shoe of any particular character, the writers get a chance to plant the reveals as and when required. Context is very important in such a case, while doing that the writer has done, to make sure that information shouldn’t seem like an exposition. It must come at a point when it is absolutely needed to enhance the plot or when it becomes the emotional need of the character. For example, Arjun, who finds himself a misfit in the family, opens infront of Tia. He tells that Rahul has stolen the plot of his novel and that’s why Arjun has lost yet another chance of becoming successful. On the other hand, Rahul doesn’t get the chance to come out of the closet and share the truth to a particular character in the film. So, his reveal comes in the end. Again, the writers craft it well. The truth about his sexuality is revealed to his mother who considers him the perfect kid.
We have to know, unlike some mystery thrillers, these reveals aren't furthering the plot. So, most of them come in the climactic confrontation sequence as a final blow. We see small fights and outbursts in the family where characters are on the verge of revealing the truth, but to maintain the decorum of the perfect family, they stop. I feel this is the most relatable thing in the movie. Many of us do live in such a family set-up!
There are a couple of tracks that don't ring true to me. The first one is ‘stealing the novel part’. In the first place, it is difficult to buy that writers can do so well in an Indian set up. So, Arjun & Rahul work abroad where this is possible. Secondly, the mother telling the younger son's novel plot to the older one seems very superficial. The story is not an object which is so easily interchangeable. Writers don’t get into the details to make it look convincing. Having said this, I liked the way it is crafted. Had this come in the end as a big reveal, viewers wouldn’t have bought it. So, this information is discovered step by step throughout the story. The other track that didn't work for me is the love triangle. It is also connected with Rahul's big reveal but still, it feels a little contrived the way it shapes up and concludes.
In a sequence, Arjun talks about the obsession of the publisher over ‘happy endings’. Rahul tells him about the emotional need of the viewers to find an escape in the fictional world, as it is impossible to find it in the real one. The writers must have given a lot of thought to the end. Is it positive or is it negative? Is its escapist or is it realistic? For me, it is a mixture of the two and that is why it feels real.
At first instance the accident seems like a convenient plot twist, at this point in the film to resolve the conflict. This tool is looked down upon as it is the easiest and inorganic one. One may tend to categorize the end of this film in the same space. But it is not! Before the accident takes place, the family has shattered so badly that only a natural intervention can resolve the problem. The accident is unexpected, yet it isn’t merely a momentary high. The accident doesn’t seem like a token sacrifice. The father (significant character) dies. The entire family needs a few months' time to make peace with father’s demise and the things which they have learnt about each other.
In such films, it is very important at what point we leave the characters in the end. The writers manage to give an emotionally fulfilling experience in the end as they do throughout the film.
So, that’s it for Kapoor & Sons. Next, I will take up another film to analyse and discuss it’s significant aspects, from a script point of view. My series will focus on some of the mainstream Hindi films of past ten years that are known for good screenwriting. Let me know your views about my observations, or any queries, in the comment box below or email me.
Here's a list of the earlier articles in the series:
1. The right set of characters - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Wake Up Sid'
2. When the 'telling' overrules the 'story' - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Kahaani'
3. Being true to the characters and their world - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha'
4. The 'switch' you weren't expecting! - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Badlapur'