Director: Umesh Shukla
Let’s just face it Hindi cinema doesn’t know what to do with senior citizens. Bollywood is obsessed with youth, and older characters are usually relegated to the background. Occasionally a film like Piku will come along to remind us that there’s more to old people than just wrinkles and dentures, but you can count films with older protagonists on your fingertips.
102 Not Out, directed by Umesh Shukla and based on a Gujarati stage play by Soumya Joshi, is a father-son story with a twist. The twist being that the father, Dattatrey Vakharia, played by Amitabh Bachchan, is an evergreen 102-year-old with a zest for life, while his son, Babulal Vakharia, played by Rishi Kapoor, is a 75-year-old curmudgeon with a permanent scowl on his face, and forever anxious about his health.
The film pits father and son against each other, and on multiple occasions…some harmless and innocent, like Dattatrey’s attempts to draw Babu out of his shell; others more intense and with lingering consequences. The film is basically a three-hander, with Dhiru, the friendly neighborhood medicine delivery guy, played by Jimit Trivedi, starring as the poor third wheel, stuck between the sparring men.
It’s an interesting premise, and there’s a real thrill in watching seasoned actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor having a go at each other. Expectedly they’re the lifeline of this film, which is otherwise too shrill, too simplistic, and feels too much like a stage play. Shukla, who also adapted the Akshay Kumar-Paresh Rawal starrer Oh My God! from a theatre production, confines the bulk of the drama to the Vakharia home. Much of the humor is infantile, and the pitching way too loud. Especially Bachchan’s character, Dattatrey, who comes off as a tireless Energizer bunny without a volume button. Bachchan is great in the quieter moments, and his chemistry with his co-star is endearing.
Rishi Kapoor’s character Babulal is the one who gets the arc, and the actor makes the most of it. Both in scenes of comedy and high drama, he delivers a measured, affecting performance. The real joy of 102 Not Out is watching the two senior actors riffing off each other. Like a scene in which Dattatrey gets Babulal to write a love letter to his dead wife – it’s flat-out hilarious.
Ultimately the film glosses over the real messiness of old age, sticking to an upbeat, cheery take on aging. To be fair though, they never claimed they were making Michael Haneke’s Amour. Despite its many shortcomings 102 Not Out has its heart in the right place, and a pair of actors clearly enjoying themselves on screen. Their infectious energy alone makes this film worth a watch.
I’m going with three out of five.