Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Supriya Pathak, Vinay Pathak, Konkona Sen Sharma, Parambrata Chattopadhyaya, Vikrant Massey, Manoj Pahwa, Deepika Amin
Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi director: Seema Pahwa
Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi rating: Three stars
Seema Pahwa, who has discovered a second, fruitful wind as an actor in mainstream Bollywood family dramas, comes up with her own version in her directorial debut. The large family of the dear departed Ram Prasad (Shah) gathers in their ancestral Lucknow home till the customary 13th day ceremony, and past secrets and grievances come tumbling out: of what use is a death if it doesn’t lead to catharsis?
Anyone familiar with sprawling, messy North Indian joint families will recognise the beats: mourning becomes a tragi-comic thing, with everyone– sons, wives, children, and sundry relatives—reminiscing, squabbling, wandering in and out of spaces colonised by people they don’t recognise, forced into a closeness which will dissipate as soon as the ‘tehravi’ is over. When children grow and leave home and start their own families, everything changes.
‘Kaise hua’? This question keeps popping and up, and Supriya Pathak, the inconsolable wife and the mother of the many sons and daughters (Ram Prasad ki ‘fauj’, as an elder daughter bitterly terms the brood), starts to sound like a stuck record. The sons (Pathak, Pahwa and Chattopadhyaya, who also stands in for a younger Ram Prasad, get the best sequences) wonder why their father had to take out ‘such a big loan’, the ‘bahus’ gang up on the youngest (Konkona), who lives in Mumbai and dreams of becoming a movie actor. Those jibes are familiar too: any daughter-in-law who doesn’t play by the rules, and wants to do her own thing, is fair game.
Pahwa’s chamber drama is a gentle-but-sharp excavation of family politics, of how the ties-of-blood can sometimes get diluted, but also strengthen when a life-changing event like death occurs. You notice the little touches: a neighbour whisking away her cushion from behind a mourner (kharaab ho gaya ya kho gaya toh?), one son sporting the father’s jacket (‘amma ne diya’, he tells the sharp-eyed younger brother), who gets to use the lone bathroom first (bathrooms can lead to major disputes), and finally: what next? Who is responsible for the mother, and what will happen to the big house in a town everyone has left?
Quite often, the film reminds you of similar situations you’ve been in. In some places, I found the acerbic overhang and the good-natured ribbing turning into something edgier, the quality which makes this kind of film stand out, dissolving a little. But then the director sweeps them up together, and we are back to being bystanders, amused and bemused, all at once. Anything can happen, even in the best families: when we leave her, Mrs Ram Prasad is readying for a second innings. Yes, she is carrying forward her ‘sur-loving’, piano-playing husband’s legacy, but she is also doing this on her own, for herself. Not a sorry-for-herself wallowing widow, but a wanting-to-get-on-with-it woman. Hallelujah.
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