Gulmohar on Disney+Hotstar is Rahul V. Chittella’s feature debut after working with Mira Nair since The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012). Co-written with Arpita Mukherjee, Gulmohar premiered on Disney+ Hotstar on March 3.
The movie follows the final four days of the Batra family living in their 34-year-old family home. As the family packs their lives away, secrets they had tucked away in corners start coming out. Over the span of a few days, the family grapples with the consequences of their choices. As each member of the family deals with having to choose between holding onto their roots or venturing out for new possibilities, they grapple with some complex questions about relationships and identity. And through the course of the movie, they try to answer the question: What is family?
Is it only the family that you are born into or its also the relationships that you collect over the course of your life? While for the most part in desi households, the familial bond has always been kept on a pedestal, the reality is that sometimes our families fail us. In unfolding through the various relationships in the movie, a sentiment that seems to echo throughout the movie is, “If you love, you love.”
While the Batras have decided to move, one character, Arun (Manoj Bajpayee), a man who imagines generations living in that home, really struggles with the idea of having to move on. As the movie progresses, we are made aware that Arun is adopted, and this had been a source of contention to his paternal uncle, Sudhakar (Amol Palekar). As the family members try to navigate their way through the various layers of complexities that define a relationship: the ego born out of wanting to make your family proud, the distance brought on by knowing you have betrayed a loved one, and the fear of not being accepted. So when in the penultimate scenes of the movie Kusum, the matriarch of the family (played by Sharmila Tagore)says that she built a home, not made of brick and mortar but of loving relationships, she means to say that connections made of the heart can withstand anything.
It is almost similar in sentiment to what Kusum tells her granddaughter, Amrita (Utsavi Jha) when she sees her exchanging a kiss with another woman, Deepika. Ammu, a musically inclined DU student, at the start of the movie is shown as being in a relationship with her fellow bandmate, Ankur. Her family is aware of the relationship, to the point that when Ammu tries to avoid his calls, Ankur reaches out to her mother, Indu (Simran). While it is clear from the get-go that she wants to end things with Ankur, she hesitates. While initially we are left to wonder if it is only because she is afraid her family will not take it well, we can quickly catch on to the fact that there is more to the story. Ammu, herself, has not fully come to terms with the fact that she is attracted to a woman. In fact, right before the kiss, she dubs her feelings for Deepika as a “problem”. So it feels all the more wholesome to see Kusum not only embrace her but encourage her to be herself.
“Do you love her”, she asks, to which Ammu hums a yes. “Then? Why are you scared? In our times, it was difficult but now you can live freely,” she says. Kusum then lets Ammu in on a part of her life she had once written off as “not meant to be”. That she had too loved a woman. Except, her relationship with Supreya stayed hidden between stacked shelves of a college library, cycle rides and dates in far-away woods.
In the end, Amrita manages to break things off with Ankur, and she is able to come to terms with her feelings. While her arc seems to have been concluded on a positive note, it is Kusum’s story that fills you with hope. After years of putting her identity aside, she not only able to come out but also have the chance at living the life she was forced to set aside. And finally, by moving to Pondicherry, where Supreya now resides, Kusum can finally live her life for herself, just as she asserted to her brother-in-law early on in the movie. It almost feels like a moment of vindication. And, now, I imagine Kusum is sitting in cute cafes, and walking through the bougenvilla-covered streets of Pondicherry hand-in-hand with Supreya.