Cast: Arjun Rampal, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor
Director: Siddharth Malhotra
If 'We Are Family', starring Kajol and Kareena Kapoor, fails to pack the emotional wallop of 'Stepmom', blame it on the insipid writing.
It took five writers and a shamelessly manipulative script to put Stepmom on the screen 12 years ago, and despite its lack of subtlety, that film still delivered at least a few genuine lump-in-your throat moments.
The same unfortunately can't be said for director Siddharth Malhotra's 'We Are Family', whose stereotyped characterization and surface-level emotions never really allow you sympathize with its leads.
Kajol stars as Maya, the kind of divorced supermom who is never late for school plays, and despite having no domestic help, still summons up enough energy at the end of each day to read to her three kids before putting them to bed. When her ex-husband Aman, played by Arjun Rampal, whom she shares an amicable relationship with, decides to introduce his girlfriend to the kids, the little tykes go bonkers.
It doesn't help that this daddy-stealer Shreya, played by Kareena Kapoor, makes a lousy first impression on these judgmental kids. It doesn't help either that their mum misses no opportunity to embarrass the new squeeze over her obvious lack of caretaking skills. But the movie takes a turn for the mawkish when Supermom is diagnosed with cancer, and she realizes she must oversee the orderly transfer of mother's duty from herself to her replacement.
This remake of that Julia Roberts-Susan Sarandon weepie is a mostly faithful adaptation, save for a few original digressions that were unwarranted. For one, it's hard to fathom any woman -- even one that's weeks away from death -- inviting her husband's girlfriend to live with them at her home; and those scenes in which both women happily share domestic duties are sheer sugarcoated stupidity. It's exactly the kind of exaggerated treatment that makes it hard to take these characters or their pain seriously.
It's equally hard to sing hosannas for Supermom's parenting skills when you consider what foul-mouthed kids she's raised. The film may be set in faraway Australia, but evidently access to saas bahu serials was not an issue. The littlest of the three kids immediately dubs Kareena a 'dayan' (witch), a nickname that the others promptly pick up, and we're supposed to think this is cute. The oldest, a teenager, is the most obnoxious of the lot, and even her insecurity over losing her dad to an outsider doesn't justify her bratty behavior.
Conveniently, there is no sign of grandparents or extended family in this movie, which is odd given that those are the first people you'd expect to turn up when an Indian mother is too ill to manage her kids. Old-fashioned to the bone, yet disguised as a progressive modern story, 'We Are Family' is the kind of Hindi film in which a dying woman will still only trust another woman to bring up her kids, and not the man who fathered them!
In pandering to this film's audience demographic, director Siddharth Malhotra and his writers have no qualms in going down the regressive route. In a scene where Shreya tells Maya she's not the "mom type", Maya condescendingly points out that every woman has a maternal instinct and Shreya's obsession with her career has made her forget it. Whatever happened to personal choice???
A large part of the reason why this film doesn't work is its sterile treatment. Everything is picture perfect: never a crease in a curtain, or a strand of hair out of place. No wonder a spaghetti fight is possibly the most exciting activity the kids have gotten into. Even the emotional turmoil of the characters appears strictly superficial, never punching you in the gut with real intensity. It's Raju Singh's swelling background score then that serves as a cue each time the director wants you to feel overwhelmed and shed a few tears.
Let down by clunky dialogue, a surprisingly uninspired score from Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and an absence of enough drama to liven up the pace, 'We Are Family', produced by Karan Johar, is a staggeringly dull film.
Of the cast, Arjun Rampal spends most of the film looking positively pained. The usually dependable Kareena Kapoor is wasted in a role that demands very little from her, and while she holds her own in the few confrontation scenes with Kajol, for the most part she is merely a pretty distraction. It's Kajol then, in a role grossly overwritten to tug at your heartstrings, who delivers anything that even remotely resembles a performance here. If you're willing to overlook her mandatory shrieking that seems to have become her staple in every film, you'll notice she's the one sole strength of this film, infusing even ordinary scenes with genuine feeling.
'We Are Family' isn't an unwatchable film. It's just not particularly engaging. Forget comparisons to 'Stepmom'; even 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' which Karan Johar himself directed was a more honest and moving film; and if you think about it, in a way that film was also the story of a woman leaving behind her husband and child to another woman. 12 years later, 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' remains a better film.
I'm going with two out of five for director Siddharth Malhotra's 'We Are Family'. Decide for yourself if you want to do any family bonding this weekend!
Rating: 2 / 5
K.S. Sundaram, Bangalore
D.R. Gulati, New Delhi
Piyush Bhageria, Kolhapur
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