What makes a house a home? Paradoxically, Gulmohar attempts to discover a solution just as the Batra family prepares to leave their luxury Delhi house, which will be demolished to make way for a high-rise. The interpersonal bonds are shattered when we meet the Batras the night before they have to evacuate their family home. They are taken off guard as the gap between them grows. They are battling egos as well as trying to develop their own place and identity. These concerns gradually bubble to the surface, requiring the transitioning family to confront them.
Such a scenario is not novel. The inclusion of stalwarts like Sharmila Tagore and Manoj Bajpayee, who are paired together in a film for the first time, adds a refreshing touch to the narrative of a dysfunctional family with secrets. Who better than Tagore to play Kusum, who makes her own decisions, refuses to conform to societal norms, wishes to be free of family obligations, and enjoys a glass of brandy at family gatherings? The experienced performer portrays Kusum with grace and expertise, making her cinematic debut after a decade.
With his captivating portrayal as a guy in his 50s, Bajpayee as Aroon leads the engrossing family drama. He is a loyal son and a beleaguered parent. It is not Aroon’s anxiousness that keeps him on the brink, but his unwillingness to come to terms with his history.
Some of Bajpayee’s favorite scenes with Tagore are when they walk through old albums and look at family photographs together. Or when he mumbles that she should take it easy with the brandy, despite the fact that he never challenges any of her decisions. Simran, who plays Indira, Bajpayee’s on-screen wife, aids Bajpayee’s performed admirably. As Indira, she keeps things together even when it appears to be coming apart. It’s great to have Simran return in a Hindi film, especially in such a significant part.
The dominant themes of the Disney+ Hotstar film are loss and memory, which are issues that most families face daily. This adds to the introspective tone of Arpita Mukherjee and Chittella’s Gulmohar. The tangled family connections mirror what’s going on in the house when movers and packers arrive. Even as the packing begins, the drama continues. The majority of the action takes place in the villa, providing a peek into the interiors of a typical Delhi house and the people that live there.
Instead of focusing just on the tale of the Batra family, the narrative provides an overview of the ecology that supports them. It highlights the socioeconomic disparity and societal biases that exist around us by looking into the life of the villa’s servants as well as the extended family of Batras. It even shows how ideological polarisation has infiltrated Indian households. The narrative portrays the modern realities that we cannot avoid even in the luxury of our own homes.
Nevertheless, the subplots centered on some of the supporting characters slow down the story, particularly in the second half. One such example is the relationship between Reshma, the cook, and Jitender, the watchman. This song brings back memories of Alice and Dubey from Monsoon Wedding (2001). Perhaps this song is Chittella’s dedication to his mentor, filmmaker Mira Nair.
In reality, the inspiration for Gulmohar originated from a party attended at Nair’s Delhi family house before it was demolished.
Gulmohar is a story about broken relationships, complicated emotions, and recovery. Notwithstanding the plot gaps, the narrative faithfully follows that emotional course. Nonetheless, the film lacks the enthusiasm and passion of Monsoon Wedding, which makes the latter both hard-hitting and touching. Yet, as Tagore explains in the film, it’s all part of the plan.