When a film is an adaptation of another film, the merit of the original can weigh it down. We Are Family carries no crashing baggage. American director Chris Columbus’ Stepmom (1998), of which it is a direct adaptation, is a black-and-white film about the tussle of two female prototypes—the ideal mother, hallowed, because of her obsessive need to protect her children—and stripped of sexuality; and the young, ambitious, desirable lover who has to prove that she too can master the motherhood canon. Susan Sarandon was not her best, Julia Roberts was safely edgy.
In the Hindi version, even with Kajol and Kareena Kapoor in the thick of this tussle, two of Hindi cinema’s leading ladies who can claim to be actors, the melodrama is yawn-inducing. Director Siddharth Malhotra (the film is produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions) does not trust the audience to feel things without layers of emotional hokum slabbed on top of a very simplistic story. Add to this, some unbelievably regressive, ‘ideal-Indian-woman’ moral posits. We Are Family is a slick saas-bahu soap unfolding in a squeaky clean Australian suburb—abiding by the Karan Johar logic, the film lives up to his formula, foolproof as far as first generation NRI audiences are concerned.
Maya (Kajol) and Aman, a fashion photographer (Arjun Rampal) are a reasonably amicable divorced couple. Their three children, Aleya, Ankush and Anjali, live with Maya. Aman is in love with Shreya (Kareena Kapoor), a promising fashion designer who initially appears to be much unlike Maya. The other woman is introduced to the children and the family. Conflicts begin. The children, especially Aleya, are rude, unforgiving and precocious. Maya considers herself morally superior, of course for having brought up three children. Shreya tries to fit in to her man’s world. All these equations change when Maya is diagnosed with advanced stage of cervical cancer. The Indian man abandons his lover and returns to his family. Both Maya and Shreya become sacrificial Indian women. Shreya jettisons her career and on Maya’s request, lives with the family to prepare herself to be a mother to these children; in other words, to be Maya. Egos disappear; “family” becomes sacrosanct. From here on until the preposterous last scene, We Are Family, is a weepathon. Patience for a film which makes stereotypical morality a burden only on the women (Aman is the only sensible voice), is difficult to muster. The bad songs, unduly stretched scenes and blatantly sentimental scenes will test your patience further.
Our family sagas—Baghban, Hum Saath Saath Hain, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum—don’t change. Johar and Malhotra chose a story about a divorced couple and an ‘other’ woman who the film is sensitive towards. But there is no real domestic dysfunction here. The norms don’t change: the ideal Indian woman is one who can lose herself entirely. Motherhood means no sexuality, even no career in this case (much later in the movie we come to know that Maya has a job in book publishing). Maya’s advice to Shreya when she is a novice at domesticity: “We are born with the formula of being good mothers, you’ll find it.” The point of view is never to evince cynicism about the workings of a traditionally “Indian” (mostly north Indian) family and the domestic establishment, but to glorify it and sanctify it further. Therefore, We Are Family, like all the others, have no real drama or intelligence. This domestic order in our films need desperate overhaul if film-makers don’t want to alienate audiences from the world—or from the new India.
The only redeeming quality of We Are Family are Kapoor and Kajol. Despite the roles they are trapped in, they go about their characters with zest. Kajol can be a fine actor and in a couple of scenes, she manages to bring out her character’s loneliness and desperation while fighting a debilitating disease. Kapoor lends Shreya charm and spunk.
Is there an alpha adarsh bhartiya nari out there? How old are you and where do you live? We Are Family is meant for your nebulous demographic.
We Are Family releases in theatres on Thursday.