'Goodbye' Review: The dead don’t die
'Goodbye' doesn’t tread on any remarkably fresh ground. It’s about the repercussions of the demise of a woman on her husband Harish and their Bhalla household
This review comes with a statutory warning, that the author has a special fondness for films that deal with mortality. Much to my happiness I seem to have encountered quite a few in recent times. Not just about death but the aftermath of it, about the last rites and rituals and how that solemn setting can become a playground for paradoxical human emotions.
Funeral dramas have turned into quite a flourishing genre in Indian cinema of late. I can immediately recollect two Hindi, two Marathi and a Malayalam one. Now add Vikas Bahl’s Goodbye to that growing list.
First things first, Goodbye doesn’t tread on any remarkably fresh ground. It’s about the repercussions of the demise of an individual—in this case mother Gayatri (Neena Gupta)—on her husband Harish (Amitabh Bachchan) and their Bhalla household. A bit like the middle-class neighbourhood of Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi of Lucknow transplanted to the more upper class and urbane Chandigarh.
However, unlike the former, it’s not the extended but the immediate family that’s in focus here. No new ground gets broken but the dynamics of dysfunctionality in loss and grief did manage to reach out to me. How despite the collective memories, shared pain and tragic togetherness, the members remain scattered and isolated. There is something lived in about the everyday battles between the nagging parents and the unheeding kids, their pent-up feelings, unarticulated grudges, simmering anger, unspoken words and innumerable regrets. The misunderstandings and miscommunications feel authentic, as does the difficulty in realisation and admission of bereavement to yourself that makes you carry on mechanically—with the humdrum of the job and the gluttony for butter chicken—as though nothing had happened.
Goodbye is also refreshing in being able to sidestep morbidity and see the element of irreverence in death, the vignettes of mourning laced with lashings of humour which are not entirely flights of fantasy, mind you, but so identifiable—the silly chatter of the friends of Gayatri, from the alacrity to prepare food for the family for three days to that of creating a whatsapp group to memorialise Gayatri. A character like neighbour PP Singh (Ashish Vidyarthi) ever eager to take charge of the proceedings and a self-anointed expert on all things ritual—haven’t we seen someone like him for real? Simple truths about the circle of life and its essential continuities get conveyed through well-written, everyday lines.
The film held rather well for me till the interval in how the filmmaker was able deal with human foibles and frailties with empathy, despite not being quite a shining star of humanity himself (Bahl is one of Bollywood’s MeToo accused). A case of the ironies and inconsistencies of life and art.
However, the second half goes adrift, few scenes manage to hold well as the plotless film meanders needlessly. For instance, the track involving the fourth son could have been totally done away with, so too for cringe scenes like the arthi-sambhog (hearse and sex) one. Pointless songs and the innumerable flashbacks, one even in animation, are used to flesh out every tiny detail of every person’s trajectory in life, when they aren’t quite all needed.
A major reason why the film remains watchable is the ensemble cast led by Bachchan, especially neighbour Divya Seth and her Chandigarh Bablis and the affectionate Labrador Stupid.
However, what hit me the most is how cleverly (and insidiously) the seemingly cosmopolitan, non-religious family—complete with an adopted Sikh son, a prospective Muslim son-in law—is eventually cast in the Hindu mould.
It is lovely so far as the film grapples with the innocence and comfort as well as the enigmas and anomalies of faith. The instructions from Panditji over the phone about preparing the body for the final departure, the search for the right direction in which to place it, the superstition about the crow harbouring the soul of the deceased, the shops that trade in death (our own versions of the undertakers) and the long queues at cremation ground. There is a delightful absurdity in showcasing the realities and rituals surrounding death without ever getting offensive.
There is an interesting touch of the subversive to a character like the Pandit (Sunil Grover) swinging between the traditional and the modern, with a password like (yaadnahin) for his laptop, arguing for the flavours of myths and legends than the dryness of science, believing in finding peace in a plate of chhole bhatoore, conveniently fixing shuddhi (cleansing) through a gift of kachori-jalebi to a kid and reiterating that “Bhagwanji apne hi to hain, board meeting ke pressures samjhate hain (God is one of our own and understands the workplace pressures).”
But the rightful questioning of some of the reeti-rivaaz comes a full circle to their quick and easy endorsement even as the argumentative, sceptic daughter Tara (Rashmika Mandana) is quietened out and co-opted abruptly. The play with religion suddenly shifts to a thumping approval of all its preaching and practices to the accompaniment of loud mantrocharan (mantra chanting) of Jai Kaal, MahaKaal. The platforming of an inclusive, liberal Hinduism becomes concurrently about giving it the leg up over others. From the sassy to the sanskari, Goodbye parallels the march of the times.