Dealing with death, and its aftermath, is a familiar theme. ‘Goodbye’ is about a Chandigarh family, scattered to the winds, learning about the death of a beloved family member, each in their own way. It’s also about what happens after you come back to an empty house, where the spirit of the deceased is still very much around.
We’ve seen two films on the same subject, ‘Ramprasad Ki Terhvin’ and ‘Pagglait’ recently, both focusing on sprawling joint families in small towns. There’s no specific Chandigarh vibe in ‘Goodbye’, except for the presence of a few sardars, and a bunch of mourners who sound Punjabi. Instead of distant relatives, though, we see an immediate family which is large enough. Three sons, a daughter, an aunt, a grandfather, and the bereaved husband devastated at the loss of his beloved wife.
The bringing together of distant family members by a sudden death is another familiar device. And that’s the core intention of this new film by Bahl, who seems to have walked past his #MeToo accusations. That, and wringing tears out of the audience. ‘Goodbye’ is an uneasy mix of genres, tragi-comedy, broad humour, and heavy-handed sentimentality, which succeeds best when the emotion occasionally swims to the top without the belabouring. And that is down to the connection between the grieving Harish (Amitabh Bachchan) and his dear departed spouse Gayatri (Neena Gupta).
The warmth between the two is palpable. Gupta, who should have been on screen longer, sparkles. And Bachchan, after a long time, allows himself to pause, and infuse real feeling into his role of a husband who doesn’t know what to do with himself now that his lodestar has vanished, and a father trying hard to revive the old closeness amongst his flock. Yes, there is the predictable monologue: can there be a Bachchan film without one of those?
For the siblings, the death acts as a coming-of-age device. The insistence on tying these loose ends — sole daughter Tara (Rashmika Mandanna) on the way to becoming a successful lawyer, at first resisting the pressure of ‘tradition’, finally making peace with it; the sons (Pavail Gulati, Abhishekh Khan) agreeing to ‘sacrifice’ their hair so that their mother’s ‘aatma’ attains ‘shanti’– feels uncomfortably crowd-pleasing. It’s almost as if this is done to offset the ‘progressive’ elements: Tara’s Muslim boyfriend who arrives for the last rites, a young house-help who is elevated by a scantily-delivered romance to the family table, an adopted son who happens to be a Sikh (Sahil Mehta), his mum’s self-confessed ‘favourite’. There’s also a nosey-parker family friend (Vidyarthi) who comes and goes. There was enough here to create a very specific universe if each character had been invested with some depth, but they all remain on the surface, even Mandana, who gets the most screen time, after Bachchan: they all speak at, not to, each other.
The forced humour surrounding the mourning is both distasteful and annoying. The ‘modern-day’ pandit at Haridwar, played jovially by Sunil Grover, perks things up a bit, but is again a device to impart lessons to the youngsters, who, predictably, learn to smile rather than growl at each other. Their adorable Labrador, who had given up eating, also succumbs to the lure of food. Life, the film underlines, again predictably, goes on.
Finally, what you take away is the flavour of the relationship between an older man and a younger woman, the way they found each other, and the loneliness of the one left behind. My eyes welled up in a few places.
Goodbye movie cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Neena Gupta, Rashmika Mandanna, Ashish Vidyarthi, Pavail Gulati, Eli AvrRam, Sahil Mehta, Shivin Narang, Abhishekh Khan
Goodbye movie director: Vikas Bahl
Goodbye movie rating: 2.5 stars