Director Rajat Kapoor isn’t shy about displaying who his idols are (the end credits begin with a “thanks” to Mani Kaul & Kumar Shahani two of India’s finest and most under-appreciated filmmakers), even if it may label him as a ‘learned’ and therefore (undeservedly) ‘pretentious’ Indian filmmaker.
This is a very strange film, with a strange philosophy and I didn’t know whether to make heads or tails of it at first. The basic premise is that an old man named Bauji (a very multifaceted role for the talented Sanjay Mishra), has a revelation and decides to follow the anthem of “my truth will be the only truth” and “I will not believe anything that I don’t see with my own two eyes”. Now, this labels him as a madman among many in his community and sparks debate about perception. It also takes a major toll on his family and Bauji, day after day, becomes more self-destructive via this new-found ideology or “way of life” of his. He does attain a rather devoted following of several men, although at first one can’t really tell if they are following him ironically, or they’re seriously enlightened by his lifestyle.
What is hard to come to terms with in the film is absolutism with which Bauji prescribes to his views… at first you think “good for him!” when he says he refuses to follow all the rules and regulations society has set for religion (Hinduism in this case) because there is no evidence of God even existing. But then, he also starts to doubt the existence of gravity and that the world is round, and your thoughts automatically become “ok, never mind, this guy is a complete idiot”. He is at once, Socrates(“the only thing I know is, I know nothing”) and a senile old fool.
This film can be seen as a clever mocking of Rajkumar Hirani’s idealistic diatribe cinema which basically champions the ‘average ignorant male’ forming truths around something he himself doesn’t understand… but in Hirani’s films of course, this central character is never revealed for the fool that he very well is, which is a shame, but it’s “Bollywood”. Ironically, even in the movie 3 Idiots , never once does Hirani have perspective enough to hint at the possibility that yes, Rancho and his 2 friends may be just as narrow-minded and preposterous eccentrics as the infamous headmaster Viru Sastrabuddhe.
I feel like Kapoor only hints at this, but was aiming for something a bit deeper though… a lot of the film is focused on the toll a personal lifestyle has on family. The irony is that Bauji kind of pisses everyone off because he is free-thinking one minute (he refuses to do morning pooja, which prompts his wife to plead to God to forgive him) but then a traditionalist the next (he wants his brother and the whole family to live together under one roof).
It’s definitely a movie to ponder over, and it will take some time to really appreciate what Rajat Kapoor is trying to say. I certainly haven’t fully digested the film’s message yet, but like I said, it’s a very strange movie, and I guess when compared with the rest of Bollywood’s cinema (almost all of it tawdry and nonsensical), that alone is enough to recommend it to all.