By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “Dear Dad”; Director: Tanuj Bhramar; Cast: Arvind Swamy, Himanshu Sharma, Ekavali Khanna, Aman Uppal, Bhavika Bhasin Arvind Swamy, Himanshu Sharma, Aman Uppal; Rating: ***1/2
It takes a whole lot of guts to make a film on alternate sexuality in India, specially when you are a first-time director. Tanuj Bhramar has pushed the envelope out of the closet as far as possible. And then some more.
It’s impossible to imagine a debutant director going so far down the road of unorthodox sexuality when he knows the pitfalls ahead. This road movie, shot in scenic mountainous spots in and around Mussourie, opens a can of worms. It’s the story of a happy successful seemingly functional family falling apart when the patriarch Nitin Swaminathan decides to come out of the closet.
The judiciously cast Arvind Swamy boldly goes where no Bollywood actor would venture. He takes off on a journey, both introspective and literal, with his teenaged son Shivum. When the shocking life-changing revelation happens, all hell breaks loose.
The director refrains from throwing judgement values in our somewhat shocked faces. His characters do what they do, are what they are… We are persuaded to enter their troubled, torn world with no room for moral evaluations. The fact that Arvind Swamy and young Himanshu Sharma play the father and son with pitch-perfect anguish, makes the director’s job so much easier.
For most of the 90-minute soul-searching excursion, the director gives his characters room to breathe easily. Apart from the father and son, an interesting third protagonist enters the plot to stir up the simmering cauldron of the confessional.
He is a reality television winner, strutting around like star in a world obsessed with illusions. Before the film ends, this reality TV brag-product becomes a more real and bearable entity.
Aman Uppal plays the character’s journey from insufferably self-obsessed to sensitive with plenty of conviction and pleasure. His reaction when Nitin tells him that he is gay is partly incredulous (“But you’re married, with kids!”), and partly unaccepting. Fully credible.
The film’s picaresque design and picturesque locales (well-shot by Mukesh G) has several heartwarming stopovers. When father and son take a break to visit the father’s parents — the affable mother (played by Indu Ramchandani) nursing a vegetable husband — tells Arvind Swamy, “I never thought I’d reach a stage in my life when just hearing your father fart is reassuring.”
While such moments reveal beautifully written lines, well-delivered by under-used actors, a whole episode involving Shivum’s attempts to find a “cure” for his father’s homosexuality from a weird godman is so obtrusively out of step with the rest of the serene narrative that you wonder why any director would attempt to kill the impact of such an venturesome story with such tacky humour.
Luckily, “Dear Dad” is strong enough to withstand extraneous attacks. It is a strong subject and a potentially powerful film replete with the tenderness and brutality that those whom we love tend to thrust on us when pushed to the wall.
My favourite exchange in the film occurs towards the end when Nitin’s ex-wife (Ekaval Khanna) retorts cruelly to Nitin’s dislike for her new husband.
“Well, at least he’s straight,” says the wife, not unreasonably.
“Ouch,” says our hero, now happily out of the closet, though still single and a devoted father. Though this is a film about painful revelations, “Dear Dad” is not a sad film. It doesn’t celebrate human frailty. But it tells us it’s okay to be what we are, who we are and never mind why we are what we are.