It becomes easier to deal with death if you are a believer. Sure, the body of your loved one decomposes, becomes one with the earth, and maybe that’s it, nothing more. It’s like a flame getting extinguished, it didn’t know how it ignited and can’t point to the exact moment it snuffed out. Nobody knows what happens after we die. Do we become souls that find a home in other beings (crows?) or are we just reduced to manure?
In a scene in Vikas Bahl’s latest offering 'Goodbye,' Sunil Grover, playing a tech-savvy pandit, tells Amitabh Bachchan’s family the reason behind putting ashes in the Ganga. It is the mythical story of King Shantanu and his queen. How she took a vow from him before marriage: to not ask questions about whatever she does. How she bears a son and drowns him in the Ganga -- and seven after that-- to release them from the human cycle of life and death. “This is bullshit,” says Rashmika Mandanna, who plays Tara, the opinionated black sheep of the family, masking her grief in anger after her mother’s sudden death. “It is all because ashes have phosphate and it is good to mix it in the river, for better irrigation of crops.”
In a later sequence, the pandit takes Tara into a corner and assures her that what she said was correct. “But your story is boring. Has no beginning, middle or climax,” he says. “Your mother is gone now and all she has left you are her stories. What logic do you find in that?” Maybe that’s what we become after we die, memories for those who loved us, stories to be told to others.
'Goodbye' is the story of a family, dealing with the mother's demise. There is Amitabh Bachchan, the family patriarch, whose lips quiver when he is unable to sustain an argument. Pavail Gulati plays the dutiful, workaholic son, Karan, whose AirPods are plugged in even when he is taking his mother’s body to the crematorium. Elli Avram is Karan’s foreign wife Lisa, trying to be part of the family. There is also Sahil Mehta and Rashmika as Pavail’s siblings. The centre of all these diverse characters, like a bark holding the branches, is Neena Gupta’s Gayatri.
Sample this scene when the family is sitting around the body, the night before the cremation. Gayatri, like a spirit or a memory, comes from inside and sits with them. Everybody is in their character. Pavail’s Karan is sitting with his laptop, Rashmika’s Tara has a grumpy look on her face and Amitabh looks defeated. Gayatri looks at all of them, smiles and asks Karan, “Mr Workaholic, got leave from your job?” To Tara: “I asked you to wish Karan on his wedding anniversary, did you do? Now you’ll have to remember wishing everyone.” Finally to Amitabh, “You didn’t get any better photo of me to put?” There is a smiling picture of her, at the head of the body, a glass of red wine in hand. “Remember how much I drank that night?” It is such a heartwarming scene that you can’t help but smile, while your eyes well up.
The film is laced with beautiful nuanced scenes that take its viewers on an emotional roller-coaster. You cry and then laugh out loud, you smile in appreciation and then feel like calling your loved ones. Even in grim situations, Vikas Bahl’s writing finds scenes which make you laugh while you hate yourself for giggling. There is a sequence where Ashish Vidyarthi, as the funeral know-it-all uncle (“Don’t teach me, I have done it a thousand times”) asks the family to change the direction in which the body is placed. The viewers gasp and chuckle as the family tries to determine where north and south lie while managing to hold the body in place. Dark humour at its finest.
It’s commendable how each character has a back story and is ably handled by the actors playing them. Rashmika as Tara shows defiance in the little gesture of removing her jacket when Amitabh looks at her. She speaks a lot through her eyes. Even the house help, just before leaving for cremation, rushes back and turns off all the switches and locks the pet dog “Stupid” inside. Such a minor scene conveys how much the family depends on her. Elli Avram is perfectly cast as the foreign wife. She steals the show in a scene where she realizes, with teary eyes, that the Hindu meal doesn’t contain chicken. Amitabh as the piqued (read: ‘Pikued’), mumbling-under-his-breath father, is outstanding. In times like these, Sunil Grover as a holy man unites (“God is ours as we are his, how can he be upset with us?”). He is so effortlessly charming, it should be illegal. And then there is Neena Gupta, spreading serenity in every frame she appears in, like a mother’s calming embrace.
What the film deftly handles is the subject of death. Everybody learns from it in their own, unique way. Some let go of their hair (and their ego) others their rigidity and stubbornness. But I guess one can never get over the loss of losing a loved one, especially a parent. You might learn to live with death. Pavail Gulati’s Karan, in a scene, mindlessly calls out for his mother after a Golgappa vendor comes at the door. He keeps calling out for her and the truth sinks in with every ‘Maa’. Now stop crying stupid, it’s just a film.
Director: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Rashmika Mandanna, Neena Gupta, Pavail Gulati, Sunil Grover
Ratings: 4/5 stars
(This story originally appeared on Cinema Express)