Goodbye Review: Amitabh Bachchan Leads a Largely Charming Film

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Goodbye Review: Amitabh Bachchan Leads a Largely Charming Film

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Grieving a loved one’s demise is never easy. People process death in different ways; and when it comes to immediate family – parents, siblings, children – how can one ever define how someone else ought to feel at their loss? In Goodbye, a family loses its pillar – Gayatri Bhalla (Neena Gupta). She is wife to Harish Bhalla (Amitabh Bachchan), and mother to a bunch more. Her passing is unexpected, and the personalities and relationships within the bereaved Bhallas are varied. So, grief is expressed in all shapes and sizes. The spread-out family assembles for the last rites, while also trying to cope with the loss of someone who meant so much to them. That pretty much sums up the ‘plot’, so to speak.

There isn’t one specific thing the film is trying to convey through its feel-good sentimentality and its feather-touch take on how families fight and make up. It often threatens to turn into Baghban for Gen-Z, but I won’t deny, despite lingering on sequences that don’t have any purpose in the larger emotional journey it wants to take you on, the film’s situational melo-dramedy made me tear up (with or without an accompanying chuckle) more than once.

There isn’t one specific thing the film is trying to convey through its feel-good sentimentality and its feather-touch take on how families fight and make up.

Perhaps it has to do with Neena Gupta. She has far lesser screen-time than this character fully deserved, being shown just enough to establish what she meant to the family. But then, Gupta’s bountiful screen presence breaks through even in her absence, lending authenticity to the moments when her loss is being grieved. Even her resting corpse face is a bit of a (morbid?) delight. The other towering presence, of course, gets much of the screen time.

Amitabh Bachchan’s Harish Bhalla is an old-school man, completely lost without his wife in his advancing years. In Harish’s silences, you feel Gayatri’s loss the most. A prequel to Goodbye, which shows the final days of the marriage between Gayatri and Harish would perhaps have been more fun. Their kids are a little less engaging, but only because there are too many of them for some reason.

The most prominent among them is rebellious daughter Tara (Rashmika Mandanna). She is a lawyer who has just won her first big case. Tara proclaims that she is great at arguing, early in the film, but her arguments against the esoteric traditions following her mother’s death seem too basic, certainly not ‘lawyerly’. She doesn’t want to follow rituals she doesn’t understand, and also feels that her late mother would have agreed with her, if she had a choice. On paper, I would personally identify with such a character the most, but Tara largely speaks in what sound like filler lines, that were yet to be turned into final dialogue.

Turning faith into logic using the power of language (familiar in the real world) is his particular forte, when it comes to dealing with the ostensibly ‘rational’ Tara.

Mandanna is extremely expressive on the face, which works in her favour. But her delivery is a work-in-progress, which is perhaps why the lines written for her aren’t intricate either. There’s a lengthy section that entails the family going to immerse Gayatri’s ashes in the Ganga. Sunil Grover, in fine form, plays the presiding baba in the rituals. Turning faith into logic using the power of language (familiar in the real world) is his particular forte, when it comes to dealing with the ostensibly ‘rational’ Tara. Great setup, but with some crackling lines, this track had the potential to be as iconic as, say, the banter between Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan in Piku. As it stands, it feels like a lost opportunity.

There’s also the busy oldest son, played by Pavail Gulati. We know he’s a career fellow, because he always has ear pods on. He talks about ‘wrapping up’ the last rites on his business calls. Gulati is a spontaneous actor who keeps things interesting. There’s also one son who is missing for most of the film, while another who is adopted, and is described as the ‘favourite’ of the departed mother. Why is he the favourite? Why was the guy who was absent for the entire film there at all? Some crucial detailing is simply missing or dealt with fleetingly.

Goodbye feels like it is aiming for slice-of-life, but there are ultimately just too many slices to keep your eyes and ears on to care for.

At its finest, the film is looking at the world outside of the family. Ashish Vidyarthi is an absolute hoot, as the over-enthusiastic uncle who takes charge of the rituals. You know, the fellow who knows what the ‘correct’ orientation for a corpse should be, as per ‘traditions’. The attempt is clearly not to single out the religion, but the idea of arcane post-mortem rituals in general. There’s also a group of aunties who seem genuinely sad about the loss of their dear friend, but can’t help prioritising other issues, including (but not limited to) tea, food and seating arrangement. The film also tries its hand at micro-commentary – like a Muslim man picking up one end of the ‘arthi’, which leads to a minor awkward moment. Ultimately, basic common sense prevails.

Even with the focus on the immediate family, there’s much to appreciate in Goodbye. With fewer of them to focus on, the film would have been even more engrossing. Goodbye is frequently charming, sometimes sloppy. Writer-director Vikas Bahl turns out a film that is pleasant enough to look at and sit through, though this is no Queen. (His best work probably remains the oddball Zee5 show Sunflower.) Goodbye feels like it is aiming for slice-of-life, but there are ultimately just too many slices to keep your eyes and ears on to care for.

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