As the members of the tight-knit Batra family prepare to go their separate ways, secrets threaten to create an irreparable rift. Strong performances and sensitive writing make Gulmohar a touching family drama.
Gulmohar is the name of the family’s Delhi estate built 34 years ago by Prabhakar Batra, the deceased head of the family. His widow Kusum (Sharmila Tagore) is selling the house and announces at a farewell party her intention to move to Pondicherry by herself. Her son Arun (Manoj Bajpayee) and his wife Indu (Simran) bought a large, new penthouse apartment assuming the whole family would continue to live together, but their son Adi (Suraj Sharma) and his wife Divya (Kaveri Seth) are looking for their own place, too.
Arun is not coping well with these changes. His father built their house as a symbol of family togetherness, and Arun idolized his dad. Arun’s discovery that not everyone had the same future plans as he did rattles him.
There are more secrets simmering under the surface of the Batra clan, none more shocking than the contents of a will dictated by Prabhakar that Kusum had kept hidden. But the root of the family’s problems is a tendency not to talk to one another, not just about troubles but about positive feelings as well. For example, Adi is convinced that he’s a disappointment to his father, and everyone tells him that’s not true — except for Arun.
Though the drama comes from all of the things that are going wrong for the Batra family, the movie is really about all of the things that they do right. Kusum’s belief in personal freedom and open-mindedness instills in all of the Batras a desire to chase unconventional dreams and love freely, safe in the knowledge that their family will always be there to support them. The family dynamic enables writer-director Rahul V. Chittella to weave LGBTQ subplots into the story.
Chittella’s screenplay is well-constructed. I re-watched the first five minutes of the film, and it’s impressive how many of the seeds of future conflicts are planted in that short span of time and how subtly it’s done. The opening scene is a large family party that introduces the major characters, and information is dispensed through snippets of conversations and even via the way people move throughout the house. It feels very natural, and only upon revisiting it did I realize how much work the scene was doing.
The whole cast is terrific, and all of the actors play off each other beautifully. Bajpayee and Simran are especially delightful as a married couple. The soundtrack is wonderful, with “Woh Ghar” being the standout track.
If there’s any complaint about Gulmohar, it’s that it could have looked more polished. The edges of shots are often blurry, giving frames a distracting, almost fish-eye effect. Still, that’s a minor knock against a movie that does a nice job of being what it wants to be: nice.