Saturday, May 14, 2016


Release date:
May 13, 2016
Tanuj Bhramar

Arvind Swamy, Himanshu Sharma, Aman Uppal
Hindi and English

Half your battle is won even before you shoot a single minute, if your film marks the return to the Hindi screen of sweet Arvind Swamy, he who Hindi film-goers remember so well as the hero of Roja (1992) and Bombay (1995). The Tamil star had become popular among Bollywood audiences too with his roles in those two Mani Ratnam blockbusters, both of which were superhits in their Hindi dubbed versions.

Swamy took a break from films in 2000. In the 16 years since, he reportedly started multiple businesses, injured his spine and paralysed a leg in an accident, got back on his feet and along the way did a couple of Tamil films. The memory of him on the Hindi filmscape remains.

Writer-director Tanuj Bhramar’s Dear Dad, therefore, enjoys a lot of goodwill from the word go. It really is a pleasure to see Swamy on screen after so long, aged gracefully and actually trimmer around the middle than he once was. More to the point, he is still charming and still a fine actor.

Dear Dad is about a long-married gay man coming out to his teenaged son. Swamy plays Nithin Swaminathan, husband to Nupur (Ekavali Khanna), Appa to Shivam (Himanshu Sharma) and his little sister Vidhi. Nithin and Nupur were buddies as kids, Nithin mistook friendship for romance and they married, after which the children came along and, well, life happened. 

This being India, Shivam does not exactly do a jig of happiness on discovering the truth about his Dad. Not that a kid in the world’s more liberal societies is likely to react positively on finding out that his beloved father, husband of his beloved mother, has never been interested in women.

If his relationship with Mom is based on (what you see as) a deception, what else has he been lying about? It is an inevitable question bound to confound even the most open-minded child.

With an attractive lead actor and an interesting premise, you would think the deal is sealed. Sadly, Dear Dad proves yet again that no film is greater than the writing on which it is based. And the script of this one – despite the uncommon starting point – is flimsy, to say the least. This is a pity especially since it comes in the same year as the wonderful Kapoor & Sons and a riveting performance by Manoj Bajpayee in the inconsistent Aligarh, both of which dealt with LGBT themes in different ways. Dear Dad is well begun but not even half done.

First, the manner in which the truth about Nithin’s sexual orientation is revealed to us and to Shivam is abrupt and poorly conceptualised, as though the team wanted to get it out of the way early on but did not know quite how to go about it.

Second, the film glosses over the effect the revelation had on Nupur. Sure this is a father-son drama, but it has an incomplete feel to it as a result of the decision to sideline the mother’s trauma and Nithin’s own dilemma about her considering that he is obviously very fond of her.

Third, a farcical interlude with a regressive medicine man interrupts the otherwise low-key tone.

Fourth, the cast is a mixed bag. Swamy is nice, of course, and Sharma’s natural ease before the camera belies his lack of experience. Bhavika, who plays his baby sister, is incredibly cute. And the very attractive Aman Uppal does a neat job as the hunky hitchhiker Aditya Taneja, who the duo pick up on a road trip from their Delhi home to Shivam’s Mussoorie school. Uppal too is a natural actor – hot to boot – who we will hopefully see more of in future films.

The rest of the supporting cast is inadequate though. A couple of them are even tacky. It is as if the producers ran out of money after a point and had to make do with amateurs.

Mukesh G’s cinematography on the Delhi-Mussoorie drive is eyecatching, even though his aerial shots of those winding mountain roads get repeated after a point. Financial constraints again?

Still, the understated camerawork and art design match the director’s realistic approach to Dear Dad. Unfortunately, the story by Gadadhari Singh is not fleshed out. There are occasional sparks though, such as the sensitively handled encounter with Aditya, which is the most memorable part of the film, and a frank conversation about homosexuality between Nithin and Shivam.

Son: So are you attracted to all men?

Dad: Are you attracted to all girls?

Putting that first question in a child’s mouth is an intelligent way of pointing out the juvenility of the assumptions straight people make about gay people. The fact that you are attracted to people of the opposite sex does not mean you are drawn to every member of the opposite sex, no?

Now if only there was more where that came from.

Dear Dad is well intentioned but once it sets off on its journey, it does not seem to know where to go. It is pleasant, brave and fresh to begin with, plus it is great to see a Hindi film with a Tamilian character at its centre yet not creating a big hoo-ha about that fact, which makes it unique on multiple counts for Bollywood. That being said, there is just not enough of anything in the film and only so much the endearing Arvind Swamy can do for it.

This one goes into my file of what-might-have-beens along with a photo of Swamy and a sigh.

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
90 minutes


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