People respect what they don’t understand. Seriously, what is it about serious men and their analytical minds! Only acclaimed director Sudhir Mishra’s directorial signature does not begin with a hardnosed analysis but on a fun note. Even when it turns serious, its ability to make you smile rarely flags.
Film: Serious Men
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Indira Tiwari, Aakshath Das, Nassar, Sanjay Narvekar and Shweta Basu Prasad
Satirical, pungent and truly absorbing, it takes you into a scientific institution where the lead protagonist, Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), happens to be a personal assistant to a renowned astronomer Acharya (Nassar). As you are led into the heart, nay mind of scientists and more importantly men like Ayyan, you are also introduced to bunkum that scientific jargon can often lead us to. Alien microbes in stratosphere: whoever cares for them? Only it is not only Acharya’s pet project but also something that tickles his PA’s mind. A Tamil Dalit, actually Ayyan’s mind is forever ticking. And he decides to move up the ladder via his son who we soon learn is a learn is a science prodigy.
Or is he really? In the answer to this query lies much drama, mirth, tension and insight. Rare is a movie that delights as well as bites. Dialogues tingle and have a sting. Says Ayyan of his boss Acharya, “For them we are like gravity, invisible.” Class and caste divide is palpable, which men like Ayyan want to crossover. Based on a book by the same name authored by Manu Joseph, with the screenplay by Bhavesh Mandalia, the narrative is as much about the burden of the caste system as aspirations of a new India.
“We don’t want caste-based reservation, only merit,” utters Ayyan a bit pompously. But what exactly is merit? Can’t it be manipulated as much else is, by those who are rich and powerful? How he tries to wriggle out of his not-so-privileged position, even supping with Dalit political heavyweights father-daughter duo (Sanjay Narvekar and Shweta Basu Prasad) forms the crux. Answers are not easy and rarely served on a platter. The director points in several directions, without being heavy-handed even for a moment.
Mishra expands and condenses the material at hand without bogging his viewers. In fact, with Serious Men the acclaimed director has regained his groove once more. Nawazuddin Sidiqqui like always is right in the groove. Superlative, here he is a gentleman of sorts who mouths high-sounding scientific terms and throws a volley of facts at us. Any wonder his portrayal has made the author Joseph forget the character in his head he wrote 10 years ago.
Scheming, loving husband, an overambitious father; Nawaz owns Ayyan as only he can, in what is clearly an unforgettable performance.
Equally memorable is the child actor Aakshath Das. As he transforms from a kid who carries his star status like a chip on his shoulder to one who can’t deal with the pressures of performance, he is achingly relatable. You feel for him with all your heart. Ayyan despite his obvious foibles too is endearing. He tutors his son to say, “I can’t deal with primitive minds,” and outsmarts many sharp ones, including the Acharya’s. When he says, “Social status has nothing to do with one’s IQ,” you can only nod in affirmation.
Actually, there is much that will make you nod and even more that will impel you to think. So much so that when the film ends, it will want to make you look backwards and connect the dots. Who is the genius here and who fits the bill of serious men? The answer may or may not be glaringly obvious, but nothing stops Serious Men, streaming on Netflix from making for a fascinating tale, a satire that hits more than it hurts.