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Serious Men Review:- Starts off with a unique take on ‘rags to riches’ but loses it’s focus in the second half.

Subhadeep Das

Audio Review

Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men is a film that tries to find the answer to the age-old question of how far a parent can go for their children while also commenting on class distinction and the regressive caste system in our country. Based on the book of the same name by Joseph Mani, the film presents itself to be somewhat layered and talks about a lot of relevant issues in our country but never pushes past the barrier of acknowledgment.

The story focuses on Ayyan Mani(played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a Dalit man who works as a personal assistant to a Brahmin man, Arvind Acharya(played by Nassar) who is the director of the National Institute of Theory and Research. Ayyan, like other parents, strives for a brighter future for his son, Aadi Mani(played by Aakshat Das), and crafts an intricate web of lies to pull it off. He calls himself 2G which refers to second generation and wants his son to become 4G as that is the generation of people, according to him, that have the smoothest of lives. Ayyan watches from the sidelines how Arvind acts as if he is on a mission to expose the secrets of the world by discovering space microbes who he believes, holds the answer to a lot of humanity’s questions. Everyone around Acharya believes that he is a visionary and possesses great wisdom except, Ayyan who is smart enough to see through that façade of his and understands that Arvind fakes his way to gain whatever he wants. He understands the formula of his success and thus sets out to do the same for his son.

Ayyan thus sets out portraying how his son is a child prodigy who wants to research a new problem each day. He does so by feeding him small bits of scientific knowledge that he makes him memorize to throw off other people as they, though don’t get what he is saying, regard it as something truly praiseworthy and teaches him to call others primitive if they try to question him further thus, creating a failsafe. Aadi talks about how if chlorophyll was present in humans we could have synthesized oxygen by ourselves and also gives heartfelt speeches about impoverished children working in chocolate factories. This is enough to grab the attention of the media houses and they soon start to promote Aadi as the beacon of hope in Dharavi and Ayyan gets his first taste of success but soon these are the decisions that come to haunt him later on in the narrative.

Director Sudhir Mishra does a good job at portraying the problems of the of poor people and how caste is a major factor due to which certain sections are devoid of a lot of commodities but he and his writers never delve deep after starting the conversation and by the second half the narrative entirely shifts over to family drama and these conversations are sidelined. The movie tries to incorporate a lot of aspects of like the weight of expectations and the desperation faced by people at their wit’s end but they are not handled well story wise and tend to often feel underwhelming. The movie also diverts a lot from the book. The relationship of Arvind and Oparna is explored very briefly as compared to the book and the film somehow tends to hold only Ayyan accountable for his actions while others are let off quite easy. The film also ends up making Arvind a kind of saviour to Ayyan at the end. I, personally, found this decision by the writers, to be mildly infuriating. Throughout the entire narrative, Arvind treats Ayyan as a simple commodity who is there to willingly accept the abuses being hurled at him that arise from Arvind’s own misplaced anger but the writers end up making him the person who gives Ayyan a way out. Out of everything, this aspect definitely did not sit right with me.

The performances in the movie is where the most distinction can be observed. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is brilliant as ever and he effortlessly slips into the character of Ayyan Mani, to the point that you cannot even imagine someone else playing that role. He portrays the character with a certain innocence at his core that does help the audience to empathize more with his character at the end when things start to go awry. Indira Tiwari plays the Oja Mani, the wife of Ayyan and she effectively plays a character who bottles up her emotions but isn’t afraid to let her husband know when she is at her wit’s end. Nassar does a brilliant job of portraying the insecurities of men who are at a position of power and what they are ready to do to ensure their stay. The breakout performance is given by Aakshat Das. In the first few minutes of his character being introduced, he completely sells the idea of him being a supposed genius but also does a brilliant job at portraying the mindset of a child being burdened by the weight of his parent’s expectations. The weakest however, are the father-daughter duo played by Sanjay Narvekar and Shweta Basu Prasad. Keshav Dhavre is presented as the most clichéd bad politician and does not offer anything refreshing about the character and Shweta’s character, though feels important at the onset, loses all of her charm in the second half.

Director Sudhir Mishra has given us tales surrounding the politics and the caste system of India but Serious Men does not feel as well executed as his previous outings. I have to commend him for this unique take on the rags to riches storyline but the handling of the narrative could have been done better.

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