Serious Men Hindi Movie Review

Feature Film | Comedy, Drama | 1h 54min
In 'Serious Men', Sudhir Mishra crafts a fascinating story of a kid who is made to act matured beyond his age. Based on Manu Joseph's book of the same name, Mishra's movie has potent provocations on underprivileged people's need to break free and on India's education system.
Oct 2, 2020 By Sreejith Mullappilly

Director Sudhir Mishra's Netflix film, 'Serious Men' is a fascinating tale of a boy who is forced to act precocious by his father. Based on Manu Joseph's book 'Serious Men', Mishra's film has potent provocations on India's education system and underprivileged people's need to punch above their weight. It is a generational need, and Mishra's film addresses the crux of the matter in a sharp and insightful way.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Ayyan Mani, who lives in a tight-spaced dwelling in a Mumbai slum with his wife and 10-year-old kid. Mani is a Dalit with a downtrodden outlook on life. It is this view that makes him normalize the word 'Negro' and belittle people of the same underprivileged status as him. His tight-spaced house in Mumbai epitomizes his mindset. Mani just wants to go away from the claustrophobic dwelling housed in a bigger property, which was once used as a jail during the British-occupied period of India.

His position as a personal assistant to Nassar's scientist, Arvind Acharya, also keeps reminding Mani of his 'aukat' (status). Mani is hardly a likeable character, and Mishra does not waste a lot of time to convey this fact. In one scene, Mani's son Aadi asks him whether Shah Rukh Khan is following the latter on Instagram. Mani quietly tells the kid aukat, as if to say, 'just remember where you come from'.

Midway through the film, we figure that Mani has a past that explains his pitiful and downtrodden nature, but Mishra cleverly keeps it for a revelatory climactic scene that will open your eyes. The beauty of Serious Men is that it works as much a tale about Jr. Mani, Aadi, as about his father. The makers show the emotional complexity of the 10-year-old Aadi in a believable manner thanks mainly to the performances.

Aakshath Das has the innocence of a boy of his age and he is quite good at emoting. But his character works mainly because Nawazuddin Siddiqui's role complements him. Siddiqui plays Mani as just how it should be, i.e., in a way that never quite makes us judge his actions or sympathize with him. Indira Tiwari is also a nice foil to Nawaz as Mani's wife, Oja. There are also quite a few supporting characters in Serious Men, who the title of the film alludes to. There is Nassar as the scientist with an ulterior motive, which strangely relates to Mani and his child's story. There are a local politician (Sanjay Narvekar) and his daughter (Shweta Basu Prasad) who try to trick the gullible slum dwellers into agreeing to vacate the place for a real estate project, with Aadi as its spokesperson.

On the downside, you could argue that Serious Men's portrayal of Dalits is a tad simplistic. For instance, how could senior Mani be so pitiful, dumb, and intelligent at the same time despite being so deprived of necessities of life? As many as four writers are credited for Serious Men: Niren Bhatt, Bhavesh Mandalia, Abhijeet Khuman, and Nikhil Nair. But, the makers of the film never quite bothers to explain these traits of the protagonist. The movie also takes a little while to get into a focused zone, a bit like Mishra's previous work 'Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi'. But much like that potent political satire from 2003, Serious Men works best when the director focuses on the relationships between his main characters.

Sreejith Mullappilly