When We Are Family No Longer

03 Sep
When <i>We Are Family</i> No Longer

“Do you remember So-and-So?” my mother asked. “Auntie Such-and-such’s daughter?”
“No,” I said. I never did.
“We went to her wedding,” Ma reminded me.
In all my life, I’ve never wanted to attend the wedding of anybody. Consequently, I do my best to forget all about them as soon as decently possible. “Nope.”
So, of course, Ma proceeds to give me all the details. It took place at that venue, I wore that dress, I argued against it this long, and this funny thing happened when we got there.
“Oh yeah, I remember,” I say at last, just so she’d stop. “What about it?”
“Well, she got divorced.”
I thought about it. “Wait, didn’t this take place last week or something?”
“Three months,” she sighed. “She apparently doesn’t want to relocate.”
“She didn’t know she’d have to move before they got married?” I asked.
“That’s what I said!” Ma said, pleased to hear me display proper feeling for once.
“Is that long enough for her to keep the wedding gifts?” I asked. A girl’s gotta know these things, just in case.

At one point in our lives as young things, it appeared that the average life expectancy of a marriage amongst people of our generation was roughly one year. I do not speak of celebrities with their Las Vegas prank weddings or whatever – I’m talking about people as ordinary as you and I.

Cousins married their long-term partners and were divorced within months; friends had carefully arranged marriages that collapsed before the first anniversary. It was a freaking epidemic and for a while there in the mid-Noughties, this was all that concerned uncles and aunties could talk about: Why Can’t Our Children Stay Married? Things got so bad, my best friend’s grandmother felt compelled to take her aside and inform her that not all marriages were like these. Some actually did survive and hers might well be one of these, so she shouldn’t get turned off the whole idea, OK?

To this day, I feel like congratulating people my age who got married in their early 20s and are still making it work. The point being, divorce is no longer an exotic experience for a great many Indians, especially of the urban variety. There are a number of people out there who’re starting out on their second (or more) marriages, some of them with kids.

Now back in the day, at least as far as I’ve observed in my own family, when a couple got divorced despite the intense social stigma attached to the condition in that era, it generally did not point towards an amicable separation. You really had to loathe the other person to your very core and have a family who hated them right along with you before you could even think about dissolving your marriage.

And once you took that step, in nine cases out of ten, the mother might as well have been widowed because the father just disappeared. I know men who haven’t had any contact with their kids in thirty or forty years even though the children live in the same city as them, move in the same circles and pretty much live down the street. Wife gone, kids went with her.

Not that it was any better when the father won custody. Because then, the mother disappeared instead and was replaced within a matter of minutes by a stepmother who was then expected to carry the full responsibility of someone else’s kids.

Somewhere in the middle of all this are the kids, stuck in a limbo where they’re expected to play along to this game of parental musical chairs and keep any objections they might have to themselves or their psychiatrists if they have such a huge problem with it. Imagine growing up watching your parents battle it out, until one day your father just disappears, a new one shows up, you get a new surname, and presto! this is your new reality and nobody wants to talk about your old one, except this is India and everybody knows about it and you know they’re talking about it all the time behind your back.

It is bizarre. And awful. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt by imagining that they simply didn’t have an approved template of behavior for situations like these back then but…

These days, however, things are a lot better. The people I know who’ve separated despite having children are definitely making an effort to remain involved in their kids’ lives. I still hear about absent fathers and mothers who’ve been supplanted by grandmothers / stepmothers, but unlike the older cases, this is uncommon in my immediate circle at least. Baby steps.

Produced by Karan Johar, Siddharth Malhotra’s We Are Family, a remake of the Susan Sarandon-Ed Harris-Julia Roberts starrer Stepmom, is rooted in this new reality with decidedly mixed results.

Maya (Kajol) and Aman (Arjun Rampal) have been divorced for three years and have settled into an amicable relationship in which Maya does all the parenting while Aman plays support during weekends and special occasions. On his days off from being a dad, Aman has a sexy romance going with Shreya (Kareena Kapoor), a klutzy career woman who doesn’t know much about kids.

You understand early on that while Aman loves his children – Aliya (Aachal Munjal), Ankush (Nominath Ginsberg) and Anjali (Diya Sonecha) – they are not his priority; and the reason he can get away with that is because Maya’s life centers around them. His recognition of her superior parenting skills comes off as  relief that there is a real adult in charge of the unpleasant things. It’s a dynamic that works for them but is thrown into instant confusion the moment a third person shows up to share responsibility.

“I don’t want to be your mother,” Shreya says. “You already have a mother.” It’s the extremely correct thing to say, of course, but the fact is when the kids are at their father’s for the weekend, their father’s partner will be an authority figure in their mother’s absence.

And despite her best intentions, this is the reality that bites at Maya after she invites Shreya into their home with the idea of training her as her replacement. Maya has already had to accept that she is officially her husband’s ex; now she has to stand by and watch as her kids leave her behind and move into the future with the same woman who’s taken her position in Aman’s life. Even supermoms aren’t that saintly. Maybe especially supermoms.

Kareena, as the somewhat reluctant other woman, is pretty darn good, particularly when Shreya is calling out Maya and Aman on their respective blind spots. She stands up to the Kajol juggernaut and comes out unscathed, which is more than you can say for poor, delicious Arjun Rampal.

Rampal, yummy as ever, mystifyingly chooses to underplay his role by cutting his expressions in half, leaving him with just one: tortured. Maybe it’s because he knew the women were kicking his ass all over the place. Aman furtively slinks about the place, hoping nobody would set him chores, and even leaves it to Maya to inform the kids about her illness. Of course, the one time he has something pertinent to say, he chooses the absolute worst moment. Aman is just That Guy and, as far as that goes, Rampal nails it.

Kajol, obviously, walks away with the movie. She is, by turns, perfect as the Mama Bear, the jealous ex-wife, the bitchy housemate, and the shattered cancer patient. She even cuts into the ham in the hospital scenes.

And unlike the rest of the cast, she only annoyed me a little bit at the end when the interminable Okay-Let’s-Hurry-Up-And-Wait-To-Die segment began, festooned with large helpings of cheese. Which, I realize, is the reason why I disliked Stepmom as well, even if Susan Sarandon didn’t get to float about in a starry sky.

Should have listened to Aliya when she said she didn’t want to do it, movie. Smart cookie that one.


Posted by on September 3, 2010 in Entertainment, Life, Movies, Review, Video


Tags: , , , ,

10 responses to “When We Are Family No Longer

  1. memsaab

    September 3, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Are the kids annoying in that kid actor way? Or do they manage to just be kids?

    Lovely review 🙂

  2. Gradwolf

    September 3, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Whattay lovely review! Karan Johar would be pleased 😉

  3. Radhika

    September 5, 2010 at 7:52 am

    In Stepmom I remember thinking that Ed Harris, usually a fairly compelling figure, looked very lost and confused – I couldn’t understand why Ed’s character would get even one smart woman falling for him, let alone two – so maybe Rampal was only sticking to the plot.

  4. Prathna

    September 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Loved how you started the review! Very refreshing and unique style.

  5. cinemachaat

    September 6, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Love the review but don’t think I’ll be seeing this. I am allergic to many of the key ingredients 🙂 Temple

  6. Harsha

    September 6, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    A Unique review. But very true. Somewhere 1 in 100’s will really end their relation amicably.

    However they end it….they are ending it!! And the kids obviously suffer!

    Grt review dude!!:):)

  7. Amrita

    September 6, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    @ Memsaab – well, the little one has her moments but they keep it in check and the kid who plays the 13 yr old is great.

    @ Adithya – I’m waiting eagerly for the check that was promised :mrgreen:

    @ Radhika – Harris actually made me laugh in Stepmom because I always thought that if two outsize personalities like Sarandon and Robert were fighting over your head, that’s exactly how effacing you’d make yourself 😀

    @ Temple – and who could blame you? The first half wasn;t all that bad but the second is interminable.

    @ Prathna & Harsha – thank you 🙂 Welcome to the blog!

  8. Of Cookies and Cakes

    September 6, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    “In all my life, I’ve never wanted to attend the wedding of anybody.” Ditto, girl, ditto.

    Though I must admit I enjoyed these events so much more as a gawky adolescent — lurking in the sidelines of all the adult “action” (by which I mean the gossiping, matchmaking, who’s-wearing-what mental note-taking…all the frivolous stuff, the furtive conversations, that fantastically electrify our atmospheric Indian weddings), focused entirely on shadowing that second cousin I had a serious crush on (well, it was a different cousin at each wedding — yes, I have a long list of “loves” that I’m glad went unrequited, LOL).

    At my own though, I was this overly made up mannequin beside the handsomest man I’ve EVER laid eyes on — it was a surreal, out-of-body experience…I have no idea what transpired inside or outside of my dolled-up existence, those two days. 😀

    Yeah you’re right about everyone divorcing left right and center these days, it’s not even funny any more. It’s a broad generalization when I say this of course, but apparently, people are less prone to pushing the boundaries of their bonds of love (which, incidentally, could grow stronger should they test them thus, but chances are 50-50 so better not take my word for it – END OF DISCLAIMER). It seems far easier to nip in the bud, the so-called evil (whose definitions are blurry as hell, in this day and age, anyway: she is unsupportive of my career = evil?! He perennially complains about my cooking = evil?! Divorce, here we come. Coz the convenient if all-too-temporary option is to, well, opt out).

    About your seriously awesome review here, Stepmom is not the movie whose Hindi re-hash I’ll line up for with bated breath (as Temple and others observe), but I’m really glad that Johar finds it in him to (continue to) jog along holding the boundary-pushing cake he took (in my book), for KANK.

    PS: To contribute to the “one standout moment from Stepmom” list folks have going here, mine was the car-ride to/from school when Julia sings (with the kids in chorus), “Ain’t no mountain high enough…”!

    • Amrita

      September 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      Awww! As much as I hate going to people’s weddings, I do love it when people have falling in love stories. I’m all for a happy ending!

      I’ve known two couples in my life who I’d call made for each other and the most romantic people I know – and the thing that made them that way was that overcame adversity together and sacrificed a tremendous amount to be together. So I guess I’m destined to die a spinster because I believe too much in marriage :mrgreen:

      • Of C-n-C

        September 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm

        Dunno about the “happy ending” but do know that I adore the pathi… telepathi. 😛

        BTW, the paradox of a last line in your comment makes me wonder… how/why is it that the thing we dearly believe in is the very thing that we are deprived of?

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