Amitabh Bachchan can’t save this mediocre study of grief and bereavement, which suffers from shallow characterisation and treatment.
Movies: The Pandemic made us realize how fleeting life is, and stories that explore the pain and anguish that comes from the unexpected death of a family member feel all the more real. In Goodbye, writer-director Vikas Bahl investigates how different people cope with grief. When Harish (Amitabh Bachchan) loses his wife, Gayatri (Neena Gupta), he has no one to lean on. His children are preoccupied with work and partying, while his neighbors are more interested in gossip and passing judgment.
Harish wishes to perform the rituals but has no idea how to do so. Tara (Rashmika Mandanna), his advocate daughter, is enraged after missing her mother’s last phone call, and the fact that she sees no logic in these rituals only adds to her rage.
Karan (Pavail Gulati), the elder son, cannot get his mind off the board meetings, and his American wife Daisy (Elli AvrRam) struggles to fit in. Harish’s adopted son Angad (Sahil Mehta) overeats in response to stress, while the youngest Nakul is unreachable.
Poignant and preachy, this is not new territory for Hindi filmgoers. Indeed, Hindi cinema releases a family film every few years about how elderly parents feel ignored and cheated by their children.
The list is extensive, ranging from Rajesh Khanna’s Avtaar and Swarg to Amitabh Bachchan’s Baghban. Kader Khan fueled his career in the last decade of his career by writing and acting in films in which adopted sons, daughters, and animals are shown to be more caring towards their aged parents than their progeny.
Another set of films inspired by Death At A Funeral explores the bonds, conflicts, and family politics that arise when friends and family gather to say their final goodbyes to the deceased. In the last year, notable works in this genre include Seema Pahwa’s Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi and Umesh Bist’s Pagglait.
Bahl tries to make a tearjerker by combining the two templates, but it only succeeds in making us appreciate the craft of Mohan Kumar and Ravi Chopra, who made us cry copiously. The premise is compelling, but as the story unfolds, we discover that the characters are underdeveloped, the scenes are overwritten, and the conflicts are underdeveloped.
The lecturing tone that explains the value of rituals and how science and faith can coexist irritates me the most. None of the characters in the film appear to have been to cremation or seen death up close. The producers want to promote common religious practices at a funeral to fit into the league of propaganda films.
Bachchan, like Baghban, holds the film together with his time-tested ability to move the audience with even the banalest material. The monologue in which he speaks to Gayatri’s ashes is the film’s high point.
However, Bahl’s submission to Bachchan means Neena Gupta’s presence has been cut short. It would have been fascinating to see more of the versatile actor conversing with Bachchan. Rashmika is effective as the enraged daughter. Tara’s rage at her father, however, remains unexplained.
The film does improve in the second half when the endearing Sunil Grover as the laptop-wielding priest talks about the deeper meanings of life and death and how memories become stories that keep nurturing us. Still, the two can’t save the film from its inherent shallowness of writing and treatment.