Can a 75-year-old be tucked into bed by his father? Is that even a possibility? If yes, how will he react? If the father is Amitabh Bachchan and the son Rishi Kapoor, it will leave you misty-eyed. That scene is among the handful in Umesh Shukla’s 102 Not Out that leave you feeling cozy. You could add to it the scene where Amitabh offers his son a towel when he comes home drenched. For long, we’ve seen the mother or wife rush in with a towel. Here the father is the caregiver, in a sense. And, it’s been long since we had a film with no ‘maternal’ presence, if you don’t count the domestic help.
The rest of it, though a taut 141 minutes, does not reach to shake off its origin — on the Gujarati stage, as a play by Saumya Joshi.
The fast pace is also a hindrance, because it never really allows you to peep into the lives of a father, Dattatreya Vakharia, who is 102 but livelier than his son Babulal can ever hope to be. At its heart, the film is about a father trying to make a happy man of his son, who is morose and wedded to routine. He’s been using the same blanket since a family holiday to Kashmir with his parents, and can’t sleep if the curtains in the room are changed.
The father (Amitabh Bachchan tries to make the most of a one-note role) is determined to change the trajectory of the son’s life. He threatens to send his son to an old age home, because he feels his lack of zest will prevent him from becoming the world’s oldest man. He throws him some challenges, but also helps him without his knowledge, all to get him to not merely exist but live life till death knocks at one’s door.
Rishi Kapoor shines as Babulal, slouching and grumpy initially before he acquires a lightness to his gait and learns to smile. The bridge between the two old men is Dheeru (Jimit Trivedi), the friendly delivery boy from the neighbourhood pharmacy.
Possibly because the camera primarily zooms into the lives of these three people, and also because the scene of action is usually the house, there’s a distinct feeling you’re watching a play. The lack of spontaneity only adds to that.
There’s a prodigal son who returns, but the less said of that angle, the better. While characters that are distinctly black or white might work in a play, in films, they stick out, simply because there’s a rainbow of possibilities. A nuanced script would have made use of two fine veterans the way they should have been.
Rishi Kapoor managed to make a mark in Kapoor and Sons despite the prosthetic make-up, and he shines in this film too, despite the layers of make-up. He’s a joy on screen, in a very irreverent way, out there to have fun, and not bothered too much about method. That streak, and his on-screen gracefulness, demands a good director, who will showcase the actor in a whole new avatar.