Mumbai, 02 Oct 2020 1:30 IST
Updated: 07 Oct 2020 19:15 IST
The Sudhir Mishra film cleverly adapts Manu Joseph’s novel by positioning Siddiqui as a pushy father willing to go to any length to see his son succeed in life.
In Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men (2020), Nawazuddin Siddiqui takes charge as a man who aims to change his son’s future by taking matters into his own hands. The satirical feature is a clever adaptation of author Manu Joseph’s 2010 novel of the same name.
Siddiqui is Ayyan Mani, a lowly personal assistant to genius scientist Dr Arvind Acharya (Nassar) at the National Institute of Fundamental Research. Ayyan endures Acharya’s daily insults at his intelligence and abilities, mocking his employer constantly behind his back. There is an underlying arrogance of the Brahmin Acharya looking down at Ayyan, a Dalit, thinking he knows nothing.
While Acharya calls Ayyan a ‘moron’ and ‘imbecile’, Ayyan refers to him and his ilk as ‘serious men’. Ayyan’s pearls of wisdom, or rather his observations on life, are quite spot on. His outlook on life, too, is ambitious. He has grand plans for his son and the future of his clan.
As he explains to his wife Oja (Indira Tiwari), only 4G (referring to his grandchildren) will get to enjoy a life of leisure, according to the plan is he working on with his son Adi (Aakshath Das). Enrolling him in the same English-medium school from where Acharya graduated, Ayyan paints Adi as a child prodigy, a genius with an IQ of 169.
Ayyan pushes Adi ahead as a brilliant child, though the reality is far from it. The father-son duo get entangled with a pair of local politicians played by Sanjay Narvekar and Shweta Basu Prasad, who are pushing their own agenda, a redevelopment scheme of the Worli chawl where the Mani family lives.
The careful nest of bluster and lies that Ayyan has nurtured all these years begins to unravel and eventually it is his hubris that brings down the whole house of cards. Siddiqui is terrific and delivers Ayyan’s bon mots with relish, imparting knowledge he has accumulated over time. The actor stands out in the scenes where he is wielding his power over those in a lesser position, and again where he pleads with Acharya to help him out.
Siddiqui gets to the heart of Ayyan’s frustrations, and the reason for his ambitions, even at the cost of his young son. Nassar, in a smaller role, is apt as the pompous Acharya, while Tiwari and Das are wonderful as Oja and Adi.
The film deviates from the book by focusing more on Ayyan and his family, which is a wise choice. When Adi grows famous because of his genius abilities, he is used as a prop by many, the politicians, his school, and even his father. Mishra includes a scene that takes a dig at pushy parents hoping for fame vicariously through their children.
Written by Niren Bhatt, Abhijeet Khuman, Bhavesh Mandalia and Nikhil Nair, Serious Men is both cruel and humorous, pointedly in the scene where Ayyan goes to admit Adi in the English school, bringing up their caste, speaking the unspoken thoughts of those in front of him. The film weaves in the bitterness of those on the middle rungs of society, stuck between two worlds as it were.
Cinematographer Alexander Surkala neatly captures these two worlds as Ayyan looks out to the city, either from the terrace of his chawl or gazing out at the Bandra Worli Sea Link, hoping to make that bridge to the other side.
Even with the comedic moments, there is a lingering air of tragedy surrounding Ayyan. Mishra, who has explored the different worlds of Mumbai in Dharavi (1991) and Mumbai Cutting (2011), delivers the pathos of Ayyan’s eternal purgatory well. His aspirations remain just that, destined to be never fulfilled.
Netflix is now streaming Serious Men.
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