102 Not Out: Rishtey Mein Toh Hum Tumhare Baap Lagte Hain, Kaam Hai Nagging

Bollywood

102 Not Out: Rishtey Mein Toh Hum Tumhare Baap Lagte Hain, Kaam Hai Nagging

Illustration: Arati Gujar

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here’s a scene early on in Umesh Shukla’s 102 Not Out that betrays the film’s manipulative “It’s all about loving your family” message.

A disgruntled 75-year-old Babulal Vakharia (Rishi Kapoor), a former Mathematics professor and son to the annoyingly enthusiastic 102-year-old Dattatraya Vakharia (Amitabh Bachchan, vying for the award of “Best Performance in Hamming”), is forced to write a love-letter to his dead wife. It’s part of a challenge Datta has thrown at Babu to liven him up and “change” his deadpan, hypochondriac son for the better. After Babu finishes the letter, Datta decides to read it out, only to discover that years of a son’s repressed rage at his overbearing father has made its way to the letter in the choicest expletives possible. Naturally, the film sugarcoats this moment as a comical scene, but it’s apparent that it is essentially a warning on the perils of parental selfishness.

In the film, Kapoor’s Babu is the face of innumerable Indian sons who have been bound by an unspoken filial agreement to selflessly sacrifice a large part of their lives to care for their parents. Living with his father – meeting his expectations and giving in to his tantrums for decades – has eroded Babu’s existence. In a way, his father’s liveliness is the very cause for his joylessness. And yet his father thinks of himself as the ultimate protector for his son.

For starters, Datta — who is the human manifestation of #YOLO and neither looks or behaves like he is 102 years old — milks his parental throne to decide that his offspring needs to be given a makeover. Only because he finds Babu’s responsible lifestyle drab. To bring about a personality change, Datta lies, emotionally manipulates, and comes very close to ruining the mental peace of his son, only to have him succumb to his wishes.

He’s an awful parent, and yet the film chooses to paint him as the concerned father who only wants the best for his son. It’s the hall-pass the film even gives itself when it decides to paint the younger generation (Babu’s son who lives in the US) in broad strokes. He’s vilified for living a life of his own, so far removed from that of his father. That fact is enough for him to be stripped of any redeeming traits. The older generation on the other hand — Datta specifically — is shown as a victim of their children’s dream.

It’s fairly clear that the two real stars of 102 Not Out, are not Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan, but the tried-and-tested Indian parental devices of “manipulation” and “obligation”

If Datta is to be believed, the sacrosanct duty of every Indian parent (more precisely, every Indian father, considering the film has zero female characters) is to clip the wings of their kids. According to him, his grandson is obliged to care for his father the same way Babu has dedicated his life to Datta. It’s precisely why he manipulates Datta into cutting off all ties with him and goes as far as announcing that he no longer be considered a part of the family. It’s a troubling belief, made more dangerous by the film’s “light” tone, which justifies Datta’s actions as borne out of “love”. Come to think of it, Datta would have hated Bunny’s father (Farooque Sheikh) from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, for encouraging his child to live his own dreams and on his own terms.

In a culture that still relies on the problematic viewing of children as the property of their parents, the film encourages pressurising the younger generation into fulfilling dual obligations of being both a caregiver and caretaker at the peak of their youth. It propagates the age-old trope of deciding a child’s self-worth by their ability to be at the side of their parents, no matter what the circumstance.

Which might have been fine in another age. But we’re in an era where several millennial children live away from their families – encouraged by those very families. So many of us have grown up being taught that our destinies lie on foreign shores. The very definition of having “made it” is to land a middle-management job in USA or the UK. How then, can we expect those same children to be by the side of their parents all the time?

It’s fairly clear that the two real stars of 102 Not Out, are not Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan, but the tried-and-tested Indian parental devices of “manipulation” and “obligation”. And it isn’t even the first time Shukla has advocated for regressive Indian familial expectations. His last film, All is Well, followed a similar worldview where the plot revolves around a son giving up his dreams of becoming a singer to join his father’s business. This forced change of heart is obviously through some syrupy emotional manipulation, just like it is in this film. Despite his guilt-inducing tactics, the only message that 102 Not Out ironically disseminates is the abject need for educating our birth-givers in the language of parental independence.

After all, it should also be about loving your kids.

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