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Ankhon Dekhi

Rating: 3.5

March 21, 2014

Cast: Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, Rajat Kapoor, Maya Sarao, Namit Das, Brijendra Kala, Manu Rishi

Director: Rajat Kapoor

Life is a medley of experiences, but are you savoring them or do you just go through the motions? Through the wonderfully whimsical Ankhon Dekhi, writer-director Rajat Kapoor shows us how the journey could be more meaningful if we lived life the way we choose to. Sanjay Mishra is aptly cast as Bauji, the 55-year-old patriarch of a joint family in Old Delhi. After an epiphany one day, Bauji decides that he will only believe what he can see for himself, refusing to go with the accepted truth.

This poses its own set of problems, especially when Bauji quits his job as a travel agent because he can no longer honestly sell holidays to cities like Amsterdam, when he has never been abroad himself. His family is exasperated, and his younger brother Rishi (Kapoor himself) moves out with his wife and son when he can’t stomach Bauji’s eccentricities any longer. Bauji’s wife Pushpa (Seema Pahwa) is much more vocal in her anger, and several of Ankhon Dekhi’s brilliantly comical scenes are when she explodes theatrically.

Slowly, Bauji collects a motley bunch of disciples who first question and laugh at his theories, but later hang on to his every word. In one humorous scene, Bauji and his chelas head off to the zoo to find out for themselves if there’s any truth to the commonly accepted belief that tigers roar.

Through Bauji’s existential quest for the real, the film offers vignettes that are out of the real. Like that bit when a nephew is caught in a trance and can’t seem to stop talking. While everyone around treats him like an oddity, Bauji holds his hand and listens patiently, until the boy falls into silence and snaps out of it. It’s as if the film is offering a case for accepting people just as they are.

But Ankhon Dekhi does meander in parts, especially when Bauji takes a vow of silence, or later when he discovers a knack for gambling when he goes to the local den to pay off his son’s debts. Despite its lush cinematography and moving score, the film tends to feel stretched. Yet we are mostly taken in by Kapoor’s gentle narrative, enhanced by an ensemble cast that delivers natural performances. Chief among them is Sanjay Mishra, instinctive as the oddball Bauji, mild-mannered and generous in spirit. Seema Pahwa is magnificent as his drama queen wife, often agitated by Bauji’s whims, while Rajat Kapoor is entirely believable as Rishi, quietly hurt and disapproving of his brother.

The director makes a strong case for familial bonds, like Bauji’s superglue attachment to his daughter Rita, played by spirited newcomer Maya Sarao. There’s also the authentic portrayal of a joint family. Beneath their closeness, there are undercurrents and understandably, moments when their patience with each other wears thin. The family drama plays out before the entire neighborhood, and it’s through scenes like these that Kapoor skillfully offers you an India that you recognize and love.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ankhon Dekhi. It’s a flight of fancy that I recommend you do not miss.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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