12 Years of Khosla Ka Ghosla: The Perfect Portrayal of Middle-Class India

Bollywood

12 Years of Khosla Ka Ghosla: The Perfect Portrayal of Middle-Class India

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

W

hen two Delhi lads teamed up for Khosla ka Ghosla, it was a match made in heaven. Jaideep Sahni wrote the characters as if they were people he had known his whole life and Dibakar Banerjee, having grown up in Karol Bagh, could visualise their world as well as he could his own. What they created remains one of the most realistic portrayals of a Dilliwala ever seen on screen.

Twelve years ago, Khosla ka Ghosla set the template for what was to become a new direction in Hindi cinema. Marked by realism, these were films that went beyond the conventional formula of Bollywood — love stories. This little gem of a film focused on the family, and the modest hopes that most of middle-class India has… and how badly those hopes can get shafted.

If you’ve grown up in West Delhi, you might be hard-pressed to distinguish the family patriarch, Kamal Kishor Khosla from the many “uncles” in your neighbourhood. But KK Khosla is a minority in the world he occupies: He is well-educated; he opted for a salaried job over a small business of his own.

But this turns out to be the bane of his life. Being a salaried man who started his career well before Liberalisation, he never quite makes the kind of money he needs for a financially secure retirement and has to depend on his children. Secondly, his education may have put him ahead of his peers, but it doesn’t quite match up to his younger son. A yawning generation gap further turns them into strangers.

Twelve years after its release, when authenticity has become fairly commonplace in new-age Hindi cinema, Khosla ka Ghosla remains possibly the most revealing and accurate portrayal of middle-class India.

While the older son, Bunty, turns out to be a disappointment, Khosla has all his hopes pinned on Chiraunji Lal aka Cherry. But their relationship with Cherry is fraught with tension: Khosla is upset that Cherry does not consider the family’s ups and downs his own.

At every nook and cranny in West Delhi, you will find a Cherry Khosla – burdened by the expectations of a father or family that they just can’t relate to. Cherry lives a paradox. His father invests in him instead of a retirement plan by giving him the best education he can afford. Like countless Indian parents, Kamal Kishor dreams that his son will become a software engineer, land a job at an MNC, and that would take care of their future. But he hits a snag – that education that he spent all his money on created a distance between his son and him.

If you’ve grown up in West Delhi, you might be hard-pressed to distinguish the family patriarch, Kamal Kishor Khosla from the many “uncles” in your neighbourhood.
Image credit: UTV Motion Pictures

Cherry represents the upwardly mobile urban youth. He is born middle-class, but wants an English-medium, upper-middle-class lifestyle. His aspirations are very different from that of his West Delhi, Punjabi family. He wants little to do with them. He’s even embarrassed of his name, a reminder of where he comes from. He fails to understand why his father insists on buying a plot of land because in his mind, his future doesn’t lie in New Khosla Kunj, but in the United States.

To Cherry, his father is nothing more than an annoying old man who thinks he understands the world a lot better than he actually does. Much like young people today, Cherry can’t wrap his head around the idea of spending your entire life’s savings on a piece of land only to build an independent floor for your children.

Perhaps the most heartwarming (and heartache-inducing) parts of the film are when KK Khosla does his damnedest to impress his son. Breaking away from the conservative middle-class mindset where fathers and sons do not drink together, KK plans a drinking session with his sons — for all his earnestness, though, he can’t overcome his gaucherie.

Cherry’s coming-of-age moment is something most young men can relate to. He sees his father ageing, growing weak, and there’s resignation in his demeanour. He sees what is a rarity in stoic West Delhi households: his father crying. And that’s enough to galavanise him into action.

On the other end of the divide is Bunty, the kind of son who tramples upon the dreams of his service-class West Delhi parents. In India, your firstborn son is celebrated as a “retirement plan”, but a few years of schooling are enough to give the Khoslas a reality check. Bunty does not top his class, pursue engineering, or land a decent white-collar job with bi-annual appraisals. In fact, he fails to “elevate” himself above his Karol Bagh roots. He goes the way West Delhi boys who don’t excel in academics often go: He tries to earn money the “easy” way. He invests in shares and wants to become a real-estate agent.

Even though Bunty fails to meet his father’s expectations, he sees a role for himself in the family. He’s emotionally invested in his father’s plans for the family and tries to make up for his lack of  education with his street-smarts. He’s stuck playing the mediator between his father and brother, a role he takes seriously.

Sudha and Nikki Khosla, the women in the family, are not reduced to caricatures, as they might’ve been in the hands of a lesser writer than Sahni or a director less capable than Banerjee.

Sudha, like many homemakers in West Delhi, occupies the place of a second-class citizen in her own home. She has no say in the matters of the household because her husband and later her sons take charge. But she holds her own when she’s playing mediator between KK and Cherry. The daughter Nikki, meanwhile, has to play second fiddle to her brother. Being a girl born into a conservative Punjabi family, she does not feature in her father’s grand plans for the future or even the present.  

She’s reminded of her position in the family when her father and brother Bunty are drinking. KK asks Nikki to open a bottle of Coke for her mother and her, but when she asks why she can’t have the whiskey, her father dismisses it outright.

Most middle-class Indian families are like the Khoslas dominated by Kamal Kishors, Cherrys, and Buntys, where the Sudhas and Nikkis are sidelined. Here patriarchy rules the house. Twelve years after its release, when authenticity has become fairly commonplace in new-age Hindi cinema, Khosla ka Ghosla remains possibly the most revealing and accurate portrayal of middle-class India.  

Comments