STORY: Hailing from a Dalit family, Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) wants his only son Adi (Aakshath Das) to have what he didn’t – a life of privilege, opportunities and respect from all strata of society. Upon realizing Adi is a child prodigy, Mani starts cashing in on his newfound fame. But is a child this young ready for all that mic-thrusting, caste-based speeches and a scam that his father’s been running? Through this adaptation, director Sudhir Mishra delves into the age-old class distinction prevalent within Indian society. And the themes of haves and have-nots add the quintessential human drama to this relevant piece of cinema.
REVIEW: For as long as he can remember, Korathi-born and Mumbai-bred Ayyan Mani has always been haunted by the story of how his grandfather died in a running train – someone whispered in his ears that he had accidentally boarded the first-class compartment meant only for Brahmins. Sure, Mani is street smart and it is his strong survival instincts that help him climb up the professional ladder: he is the personal assistant to man-of-science Dr. Acharya (Nassar) at the National Institute of Fundamental Research. But being born into a poor farming family in a remote hamlet in Tamil Nadu has its own ramifications – Mani likes his beer ‘not extremely chilled, not warm’ and is obsessed with a life of dough and dignity for his aankhon-ka-tara Adi. Call it sheer luck or a classic case of rags-to-riches at play, Adi turns out to be a genius who has complex chemical formulae at the tip of his tongue. Also, Mani is running a scam on the side while the nation is reveling in the birth of a genius (they call him Chota Einstein at one point). If political leaders are willing to pull the family out of its two-by-two kholi among other generosities, then why the con? Based on Manu Joseph’s book by the same name, director Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Serious Men’ is a satire on the stark contrast (or the lack of it) between the rich and educated and the poor and naïve with a slight deviation from its original story.
The opening sequence leads us to an unnamed, dingy, and poorly-lit Chawl in Mumbai with Mani Senior deciphering life with this uninhibited line – “…zindagi bhi aisi hai, complex! Aadmi bematlab hi paida hota hain, Marta bhi Matlab hi hai” – and what ensues thereon is absolute madness, coupled with unabashed greed and, of course, nonchalant scheming and scamming. The trope is all too familiar: a man from a marginalized household is hardened by life and all the curveballs he has dodged so far and wants his son to have a better shot at it; we get that. But what sets Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Serious Men’ apart is the way the story is laid out – so out-there and yet so subtle. Other than the atrocities faced by the Dalit community in India, the narrative also brushes its shoulders with the prevalence of ‘pleas’ to embrace Christianity for a better life and the caste card that’s often played within the subjugated communities. It is bold and ironic but no one’s taking any offense because Mishra has inculcated this subtext with the foil of sarcasm wrapped around it. Besides, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has sprinkled Nawazuddin Siddiqui-ness all over the script and the actor sure knows just how to navigate the tricky lanes without rubbing anyone the wrong way. Speaking of which, the lungi-donning actor in this social commentary gets into the skin of Mani as if they are long-lost brothers. While the dialogues may be easily forgotten, his expressions in the meltdown scenes are a testament to his acting prowess. The child genius Adi aka Aakshath Das is a cocky young man sharing the ultimate secret with his father and, even at such a tender age, he walks shoulder to shoulder with Siddiqui and their twisted accord is palpable. The duo may have lowered the scale of their moral compass but not the God-fearing Indira Tiwari’s Oja; she sort of balances the borderline megalomania out that the other two latch on to. Shweta Basu Prasad’s Anuja is the poster child of oppression (with a crippled leg, burnt marks and a Carnegie Mellon degree) in this dramedy but her role remains under defined and it is criminal not to use a fine actor to her complete potential. The characters essayed by veteran actors Nassar and Sanjay Narvekar (as the local politician and Anuja’s father) do not have much to do in the film other than safeguarding their own selfish interests, which they do with aplomb.
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