Serious Men Review: A heart-wrenching satire on modern India
Nawazuddin Siddiqui leads a stellar cast in the Netflix adaptation of Manu Joseph's award winning book of the same name
'Geniuses never stay silent,' the go-getter Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) tells his wide-eyed wunderkind Adi (Aakshath Das) whom he sees as his ticket to a better life. 'Because they have answers to everything.' So in an attempt to build up his child prodigy image Adi is coached to be a compulsive talker, to constantly memorise scientific jargon and connect emotionally with his audience through carefully curated tidbits.
Based on eminent journalist Manu Joseph's 2010 satire by the same name, Serious Men, directed by Sudhir Mishra drops on Netflix this Friday. It stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui as an ambitious street smart Dalit, who models his son, referred to as cross between Einstein and Ambedkar after his boss Astrophysicist Dr Arvind Acharya. The latter is a suited-booted English speaking Brahmin whom Mani and his ilk refer to as 'Serious Men' a class above the 'imbecile' low cast who serve under them.
A biting social commentary on the inherent dichotomy existing within a seemingly modern India, the film delves headlong into a chaotic society where deeply entrenched casteism overrides and accentuates class divide. A political system that thrives on opportunism and an education system that prioritises references over merit, alongside issues of domestic violence and abject poverty add to the entire drama.
Mani aspires for a luxurious world, one filled with opportunities where his son can loll around poolside like the indolent upper class and enjoy all the privileges his community members have been denied for ages. It's a story that will no doubt tug at the heartstrings of every parent who toils hard so their children could have a better life. At the same time, Serious Men also lays bare a society where politicians, corporate honchos and the average man on the street indulge in a constant tussle or jugad to eke out their existence.
Within a span of two hours the movie skillfully unravels the layers to take us right into the heart of the story - of the angst driven Dalit whose poverty ridden early years have laid the foundation for a life of hustling and the society around that seem impervious to his struggles. Siddiqui brings his unique talent of portraying a character who can easily blend into the crowd as well as stand apart from them through his stalwart acting prowess. Indira Tiwari who plays his simple but spirited wife Oja keeps up the tempo. Kids usually end up being too cutesy by playing to the gallery in movies where they have a central role but newcomer Aakshath Das here is so refreshingly earnest you want to reach out and hug him. Veteran actor Nassar who plays Dr Acharya gets his tone right as do all the other characters whom Mani encounters including the Carnegie Mellon grad Anuja, played beautifully by Shweta Basu Prasad, who harbours political ambitions and is reflective of the upwardly mobile young Indian.
The one room tenement occupied by the Manis in a Mumbai chawl remains vivid in your mind long after the movie is over, testament to the cinematographer's skill in turning a concrete space into a palpable presence that reflects the claustrophobic lifestyle the protagonist is attempting to escape from. Serious Men in the end is reflective of an aspirational India, and an angst-ridden community of backward cast with an overarching dream to build a better future for their kids. Mani, significantly never plays the victim; the movie may be dark in tone, but is infused with a certain lightness that makes it palatable so you never drown completely even as you watch teary-eyed at the extent to which a father goes to uplift his son. Be prepared to be drawn in to a world that's certainly not pretty but one that is surely not lacking in opportunities.
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nassar, Aakshath Das
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Serious Men will stream on Netflix from October 2