Directed and co-written by Rahul V. Chittella, along with co-writer Arpita Mukherjee, “Gulmohar” is centered around the Batra family. There’s the head of the family, Kusum. Her adopted son is Arun, and he’s married to Indu. Their children are Amrita, Aditya, and Payal. Aditya is married to Divya, and Payal is married to Sameer, and although Amrita has a boyfriend, Ankur, she’s still figuring herself out. Kusum’s brother-in-law is Sudhakar, who is succeeded by his son Kamal, daughter-in-law Neena, and grandson Kishore. In addition to all that, there’s the house help and security guards: Reshma, Jeetendra, Paramhans, Radheyshyam, and Surekha. And through these characters, the movie attempts to comment on family, love, and more. So, let’s talk about it.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Old Houses Versus Skyscrapers
Some of the first lines that we get to hear in “Gulmohar” are about how single-storey houses in New Delhi are being demolished and converted into skyscrapers, thereby ruining the aesthetic and the identity of the national capital. Although we don’t get a proper understanding of the geography of Gulmohar, it eventually becomes clear how every nook and cranny of the building is filled with memories. When it comes to moving into skyscrapers like the one Arun and Indu have bought in Gurgaon (or Gurugram) or the one that Aditya and Divya are trying to buy, they are beautiful, but they are becoming increasingly unaffordable. Now, when it comes to actually discussing which one is preferable or sensible, houses or skyscrapers, the movie obviously sides with the former because that’s what the movie is based on. And, from the perspective of these very affluent and very privileged characters, it seems understandable. But from every other perspective, it seems particularly daunting that these are the two options we have at our disposal. Either you need to be born into a house—and you need to be rich enough to hold onto it for generations—or you need to be wealthy enough to buy a flat in a skyscraper. Affordable housing in the national capital isn’t even a pipe dream anymore.
Joint Families Versus Nuclear Families
The idea of houses versus skyscrapers is synonymous with the age-old conversation about joint and nuclear families. When we meet the Batras in “Gulmohar,” they’re breaking up into units of their own after living together for years. But this isn’t the first round of the family going their separate ways. We hear that it had happened before when Kusum decided to move from Jamshedpur to Delhi, which is something that Sudhhakar isn’t very happy about because he thinks she’s responsible for dividing the family into pieces. Who is right and who is wrong, though? Well, to be honest, the concept of joint families centered around an ancestral home used to be a good idea because it provided a sense of support despite an individual’s economic condition. You could be the highest earner in the family or the lowest, and yet at the dinner table, everyone would become a singular unit. However, that obviously didn’t last because you can’t gain generosity with money, and contributing more to the family meant demeaning the ones who couldn’t. The taunts and tension are never usually limited to that, thereby making the idea of nuclear families much more sensible. Without the pressure of answering your relatives all the time, you can make the decisions you want to make. Since joint families are usually hubs of patriarchy, casteism, classism, and more, moving away and making your own world is a smart decision. That said, in this economy, where everyone is struggling to make ends meet, having a source of emotional and financial support right around the corner doesn’t sound so bad.
Blood Relations Versus Adoption
It’s revealed pretty early on in “Gulmohar” that Arun is Kusum’s adopted son because she suffered three miscarriages. While waiting at the hospital, she came across a baby wrapped in a red blanket and decided to adopt him. Now, Kusum says that she and her husband always saw Arun as their own. The same can be said about Kamal, Neena, and Kishore. But the snake-in-human-form that is Sudhakar always mistreated Arun because he didn’t have Batra blood coursing through his veins. His bigotry and hatred were so high that, in Prabhakar’s (Kusum’s husband and Arun’s father) weakest moment, he managed to make him transfer the ownership of Gulmohar to him and his family instead of letting it be inherited by Arun and his family. And it’s wild that Sudhakar thinks he is right to do it, and he should keep pursuing his mission to take over Gulmohar, even if it means taking the Batra family to court. We see how this attitude of Sudhakar’s has skipped a generation and bled into his grandson, which is insinuated by Kishore’s subtle majoritarian sentiments. So, it’s evident that belonging to a bloodline doesn’t automatically make one a better person. They’ve to sift through the traits they’ve inherited and work on them until they are left with only the best qualities. Yes, it’s true that Prabhakar and Kusum probably saved Arun from a life of poverty and struggle. However, that doesn’t give them the right to ostracize him at the drop of a hat, especially when that’s something he has experienced all his life despite being linked with the Batra surname. Thankfully, Kusum shows that she doesn’t side with Prabhakar or Sudhakar and makes the family whole again.
For the most part, “Gulmohar” doesn’t explicitly address the fact that the women are in the kitchen and the men are being useless. Indu spends every waking minute making sure that all the things in the house are properly packed, while Arun has an existential crisis on the highway. Yes, yes, Arun works at the press and brings the money that’s used to buy everything that’s in the house, and he puts food on the table. But since we don’t really see how he’s instrumental to the functioning of that press, he could’ve helped Indu with the packers and movers because it’s such a stressful job. Since we are so used to seeing women “take care of the house,” we never question this aspect of the film until Divya and Aditya explicitly argue about gender roles. Their main argument revolves around the fact that Aditya’s start-up, based on an app that he’s making, isn’t making any money. Meanwhile, Divya has a stable job, and she’s earning enough to provide for the two of them for the time being. However, Aditya has grown up watching Arun be the “man of the house” and can’t accept the fact that his wife is the earning member. So, instead of making things easy for her, thereby allowing her to do her job well, he just whines around a lot. Eventually, he understands that pushing for his app and complaining about his predicament will end up hurting his relationship with Divya. Therefore, he decides to take the easy way out, as it’ll take the pressure off of him and Divya.
Self-Made Versus Family-Funded
The aforementioned “easy way out” essentially involves Aditya taking his dad’s money and using it to fund his app-making venture. It sounds like the only option for Aditya and a stupid way to resolve his problems, especially when he is hyped as the “self-made” guy throughout the movie. But the one thing that “Gulmohar” unintentionally (or maybe purposefully) highlights is that the son of an affluent father can experiment with their career goals for two whole years and get married without having a job. And when the going gets tough, they can bail themselves out by reaching out to their rich parents. That option isn’t available for those who don’t belong to the upper class or the upper middle class. For people who aren’t like Aditya, it’s “do or die.” You choose a career path, and its results are up to you. You deviate from that career path, and its results are still up to you. There’s no cushion made of cash to fall back on. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue your dreams and hope that you’re born as an Aditya in the next lifetime? No, absolutely not. You should do what you believe in. However, if your family can’t support you all the time, you should also get a job so that you have a steady source of income to support your dreams.
It’s commendable that in this whole mess, “Gulmohar” finds the time to champion queerness. As mentioned before, Amrita has a boyfriend, but she’s actually in love with a girl named Deepika (Tanvi Rao). When Kusum finds out about it, she reminisces about the time she fell in love with a girl named Supriya (Sanjina Gadhvi and Meeta Narain). She says that back in the day, lesbian relationships weren’t as accepted as they are now. So, she wants Amrita to proudly love Deepika without thinking about what everyone else is going to think about it. By the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the reason Kusum is moving to Puducherry is that that’s where Supriya currently resides. Amrita’s arc is haphazardly concluded, but the revelation of Kusum’s queer side shows that so many generations have been stopped from being who they are because Indians are inherently homophobic. They are so afraid of letting two adults love the way they want to love each other that they’ll force everyone to be heterosexual and watch families built around a lie crumble and die. The idea that being queer will hinder “organic procreation” is quite dumb. Given the population of this country and the number of kids who are put up for adoption, adding to those numbers should be our last concern. Our priority should be to let people be with whom they want to be because that’s the only way to make this country peaceful. In addition to all that, “Gulmohar” shows that it’s never too late to come out as gay to your family.
The Relevance Of Destiny
Destiny is dealt with in an interesting way. On the one hand, you see Kusum attributing everything that has happened in her life—from not getting to be a doctor to the water and the tea destroying Prabhakar’s will—to destiny by reiterating the statement, “it was meant to be.” On the other hand, Arun’s Baba (Vinod Nagpal) says that losing him as a child was probably “God’s will.” In doing so, “Gulmohar” illustrates that while the affluent have the option to ignore their privilege and see everything working in their favor as the work of “destiny,” the poor have no other option but to see their ups and downs as the work of “destiny.” Arun, who is the product of these two classes, is aware that everything that happens in one’s life is a result of the choices one makes and the circumstances that they are in, which are influenced by multiple factors such as the economy, politics, and climate of the nation. So, if you feel that you’re saying the phrase “good things happen to good people” a lot, just understand that you are ignorant about your privilege, and you’re perpetuating a very obtuse way of perceiving life. There are many out there who want to do good, but they aren’t able to do so because of the time and the family they were born into. Hence, if you can share your “good times” with the people who aren’t having a good time, do it instead of celebrating how “lucky” you are.
Classism, Casteism, And Communalism
“Gulmohar” celebrates systemic inequality by trying to show that Reshma, Jeetendra, Paramhans, Radheyshyam, and Surekha are a part of the family and that they are thankful for working for the Batras. But, going by their aspirations to be something more, you realize that this isn’t their preferred option, and they’d rather live a life where they aren’t someone’s servant. India is a country that depends on class inequality. You’ll hear NRIs complain about having to do their household chores themselves when they’re in a foreign country while applauding India for having a servant for every single task. So, it’s natural for this movie to not be ashamed of showing how the Batra household depends on those who aren’t actually a part of the family. And where there’s classism, there’s casteism and communalism as well. Sudhakar doesn’t take the water that’s served in a glass by Reshma because she’s Muslim. He doesn’t want Reshma or Surekha to touch the items from the prayer room because Reshma is Muslim and Surekha belongs to a different caste. All this goes to show that the “class” in the “upper class” isn’t synonymous with generosity, secularism, or benevolence. It’s actually synonymous with plain-old bigotry. That said, communalism isn’t restricted to Sudhakar, as Jeetendra resorts to the same when he suspects that Reshma is in love with Irfan (Gandharv Dewan). However, Paramhans explains it best while talking about how love doesn’t see religion, caste, or class because these are man-made boundaries. He even says that one doesn’t need to be educated to express love; one just needs to see a Shah Rukh Khan film.
Final Thoughts On ‘Gulmohar’
The first hour of “Gulmohar” is really good and tackles all of the aforementioned themes with great dialogues and even greater performances. But as soon as all the cards are placed on the table, Rahul V. Chittella and Arpita Mukherjee lose their grip on the narrative. The dialogues become sloppy, and the resolutions to all the character arcs and topics seem incredibly juvenile. The cinematography by Eeshit Narain, the music by Siddhartha Khosla, and at the cost of sounding repetitive, the performances by the cast come together to make it an engaging viewing experience. The comparisons with “Kapoor and Sons” are inevitable at this point. However, it runs the risk of being forgotten due to the OTT release (this should’ve been a theatrical release) and the weak screenplay. Still, if you are a fan of Sharmila Tagore, Manoj Bajpayee, Simran, Suraj Sharma, Amol Palekar, Chandan Roy, and Anuraag Arora, and you want to see how Utsavi Jha, Nargis Nandal, Kaveri Seth, Santhy, Jatin Goswami, Abhinav Bhattacharjee, and Tripti Sahu have fared alongside them, you should give “Gulmohar” a try.