Goodbye review: Hard to connect with Vikas Bahl’s disconnected reel family

It’s fine to have scant regard for rituals. People should be granted privacy in mourning, but there is no grief in the eyes of many of Bahl’s characters. Rashmika Mandanna puts up a decent show in her maiden Hindi film, but it’s not enough to infuse life in this ash laden story.

Rating: 1.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Early in the day, the elder son cremated his mother. Come the dark hour, the father Harish [Amitabh Bachchan] is disturbed by the lusty voice emanating from his son’s room. He is naturally bewildered by his son Karan [Pavail Gulati] and his videsi daughter-in-law’s [Elli Avram] intimate display. The son has a bizarre explanation, “From the day we got married, mother desired to have grandchildren. Ignorance, then wife’s health issues made it difficult. We couldn’t fulfil her dream when she was alive, but we are making a fresh start to honour her in death.” Phew! Speechless.

Earlier, the daughter Tara [Rashmika Mandanna] loses her cool seeing cotton being plugged in her dead mother’s nostrils. The lawyer has scant regard for rituals. “If mom was alive, she would have never given consent to such rituals,” moaned Tara.

There is another son or kin who is weeping yet making a mockery of himself with his, if not crocodile, then farcical tears. Few days later, the younger son Nakul pops in from a mountain expedition. Before arriving, he called a kin from the central station in Chandigarh. He is delighted to be present for his father’s birthday and all excited to meet his mother and family, only to be left devastated by the terrible tragedy. Yes, there is no network in the mountain, but if he has a mobile phone, surely, he must have received few miscalls or text messages from some family member to inform of his mother’s death after he touched down from the hills. Or did the family chose to not inform him?

Watching such bizarre scenes unfold, you wonder, if no soul, these characters certainly don’t understand the significance of timing. It’s alright to be ignorant and having scant regard for rituals in happier times – marriage, birth, festivals, but in death, the rituals are about giving dignity to the deceased, praying for the soul to be at peace. Most cultures in the world follow their rituals. It is not our place to be, but the Bhallas subject themselves to scrutiny with their open condemnation of rituals, traditions following a death.

Four paragraphs down and it is only now that we reveal the deceased’s name – Gayatri [Neena Gupta]. But if writer-director Vikas Bahl, and his Bhalla family from Chandigarh didn’t care about the dignity of their deceased, how can they expect any condolences from us? The ignorance is followed by realization but the damage done earlier is irrepairable. The tragic news is broken not by any family member, but a humble waiter who came all the way to return Tara’s phone. Ironically, the waiter here is an actor who gained fame through an insurance [Acko] company ad.

As a family, the Bhallas are an interesting mix. Harish and Gayatri have many kids, but at least two of them are confirmed adopted – one a Sardarji, other a girl presumably from the North East. It is very difficult for Rashmika Mandanna to let go of the Telugu accent, but was Tara too adopted? Besides, was the adoption angle created to accomodate Mandanna’s Telugu-accented Hindi?

The one character that confused us the most is Harish himself.  A young Harish is shown to have lost his parents and then taken in [perhaps adopted] by a lady (teacher). The Harish adolescent years are covered through a colorful sketchbook. They’ve borrowed the younger look from one of Bachchan’s classics.

Maybe, Gayatri’s death has left Harish in a state of shock. We only see the man break down after immersing his wife’s ashes. If not his real age, Bachchan is playing a character in his late 60s. If Harish was born in the 50s, then surely he must have attended some funerals and had basic idea of rituals pertaining to a funeral. Most of India was still very traditional and conservative then.

Here we don’t even see a pundit. Instead, we have a nosy neighbour P.P. Singh [Ashish Vidyarthi] dictating the funeral proceedings. Perhaps the PP here is a dig on all the Ponga (fake) Pandits. It was Sunflower [2021], and now Goodbye [2022], Bahl has found his resident moral police/pundit in Vidyarthi.

The Bhallas opt to use a photo of Gayatri holding her drink to be kept besides her body. Some of them wear branded clothes during the ash immersion ritual. In an earlier scene, Tara is perched on the floor with her left foot pointing to her dead mother’s head. The elder son refuses to shave his hair. Pointing out these things would perhaps smack of middle class hegemony. But we also feel for the rich, who are often stereotyped as ignorant, uncultured souls only bothered about their riches and leisure activities.

Ironically, the leading man of Goodbye is much respected for his devotion to faith. (Remember, the tree wedding?) So, too, the producer who has named her production house after a deity, and a strong believer of numerology. Ektaa Kapoor is known to push the envelope in her films/OTTs shows. Indian cinema though has built its legacy on community viewing, where the large chunk of this audience consists of the middle-class, who religiously follow traditions, rituals. What would they make of the Bhallas and their ignorance?

Language is never a consideration as Rashmika Mandanna puts up a fairly competent show in her first Hindi film. Pavail Gulati, Bachchan and Neena Gupta are fairly convincing too, but the rest of the Bhallas are flat. It takes a mysterious pandit [Sunil Grover] to show the right path to the family. He is traditional, yet modern and does speak English. Grover shines like a beacon in this grim, ignorant atmosphere. Though brief, but Grover is simply brilliant in his special role

Elli Avram lands a horses-for-courses role. The patriarch may have a cliched view of the American culture, but the innocent Avram dispels the desi notions. She turns up in a traditional Western black mourning dress only to be given s stern look by her in-laws. Later, she rushes to fetch the water from the matka [spilled as a ritual before the pyre is lit up]. Here’s an American who is totally alien to Hindu culture, rituals, yet she has her heart in the right place. However, her Hindu husband and in-laws, most seem clueless about their own tradition. The one character who showed real emotion and stayed true to its nature is Stupid, the loyal family dog. We pity the name though.

Bahl’s story is edgy, potentially controversial but the average screenplay further compounds the problem. The couple of tracks play to the corresponding visuals. Swanand Kirkire penned, and Amit Trivedi composed-crooned Jaikal Mahakal closing song has the vibe of Jaidev Jaidev Jai Mangal murthI (devotional song) but it has a raag of its own. Maybe, Trivedi’s pronunciation of certain words – Rudraaya, Shambho – is questionable. The Goodbye song though lacks the magic of Trivedi’s Namo Namo track from Kedarnath [2018].

More than mourning, we, too, believe in celebrating a departed soul’s life, cherishing his/her memories. But can a ignorance-is-bliss approach be adopted in death? Not quite dysfunctional, but it’s hard to connect with Bahl’s disconnected reel family. Private mourning, questioning rituals is fine but there is no grief in the eyes of many Bhallas here. We’re not moved by Bahl’s ash laden story. So, we bid a tearful goodbye to Goodbye.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s