Kapoor & Sons
“Kapoor & Sons chips away at the tall task of normalizing LGBTQ individuals in Indian cinema.”
Title: Kapoor & Sons
Director: Shakun Batra 👨🏽🇮🇳
Writers: Shakun Batra 👨🏽🇮🇳 and Ayesha DeVitre 👩🏽🇮🇳
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Kapoor & Sons is an Indian, Hindi-language comedy which begins when two estranged brothers find out their grandfather has suffered a cardiac arrest and are forced to return to their childhood home. Finding comedy in between painful family matters, such as perceived betrayals, impending divorce, and the ever-present cloud of their grandfather’s health in decline, this film manages to feel lighthearted despite its heavy subject matter.
The film was well-received, raking in nearly five times its budget globally. But despite my love for Bollywood soundtracks, high-production values, and feel-good endings, what often disappoints me is the sentimentality and overlong running times of many films from this region. I recognize this is my personal preference, but I am also reviewing from a Western/American perspective and our cinema leans away from overt romanticism, for better or for worse. And I am always a fan of directors who can edit, edit, edit.
Kapoor & Sons falls into the aforementioned sand traps. There’s a lot of good, don’t get me wrong; I adore the cinematography, with its bright pops of color softened by a perpetual Instagram filter reminiscent of hazy, sun-bleached yesteryears. The acting is superb. But while I felt almost giddy from the stylistic virtuosity of the first half, by the time I hit the 1:30hr mark the rest turned into a soppy slog, filled with unnecessary twists and too. Many. Emotions.
I would still recommend a watch, if anything for the beautiful visuals and bright energy. But don’t feel too bad if you fast-forward the latter half; you won’t be missing much.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Women lag far behind in representation or dialogue; however, the ones who do exist boasts some of the most complex, well-rounded, and strong characterizations I’ve seen coming from mainstream films in this region. I admit my limited exposure to Bollywood; however, considering that the recent hit Dangal was lauded as a feminist film, casting several female leads in this enjoyable sports film (as we review here), the actual empowerment of the roles are stronger in Kapoor & Sons.
There are two main women:
Tia, played impishly by Alia Bhatt, is a spot-on portrait of the modern young adult. She parties, she smokes, she cusses—but she’s also vulnerable and tries to be a good person.
Sunita Kapoor, the matriarch of the family played by venerated actress Ratna Pathak, is beautifully complex. She can be obstinate but is also entirely sympathetic, especially as we see why her marriage is on the rocks.
Unfortunately, the decision to paint the grandfather as a harmless pervert docks this score half a point. He’s a total creep, obsessing over sexy young women like a total lech up until his deathbed. The film treats it as something benign and endearing, when really, it’s just gross.
Mediaversity is written from an American point of view and to that respect, it will always be refreshing for us to watch a cast of all non-white characters. So this get a 5/5 for showcasing an Indian narrative, without any blatant colorism or dumbing down of foreign characters (yes, even the white ones—a flat, villainous stereotype of any ethnicity will lose points at Mediaversity).
Consider the fraught territory of being one of the few mainstream Indian films to portray LGBTQ characters without reducing them to effeminate, limp-wristed punchlines—then revel as Kapoor & Sons gets it right.
This isn’t to say the film focuses on LGBTQ issues, or even really displays anything besides some photographs of two men standing verrrrry close together. In fact, I hesitate to give this a full score due to such limitations; however, I'm taking into account that every culture has its own progress to make on greater inclusiveness, and it would be unfair to score Kapoor & Sons by the barometer of a NYC liberal such as myself.
Therefore, it would be unrealistic to expect American levels of LGBTQ representation in a mainstream Bollywood film. What we have, instead, is a breakthrough—one that Hamna Zubair explains succinctly for DAWN Images:
“Though several Indian films before Kapoor & Sons have featured gay characters—notable names include Deepa Mehta's Fire, Hansal Mehta's Aligarh and Onir's My Brother Nikhil—they've mostly been viewed as art films or niche cinema and have had a limited audience.
In contrast Kapoor & Sons is an aspiring blockbuster and its sheer reach could potentially 'normalise' gay men by bringing gay characters into mainstream conversations in a way indie flicks just can't.”
Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.25/5
Kapoor & Sons makes great strides for progressiveness within the context of the Hindi film industry. Is it perfect? Nope. But the cinematography is pretty, the cast is pretty, the actresses get meaty roles, and the film chips away at the tall task of normalizing LGBTQ individuals in Indian cinema. All good things.