Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Rashmika Mandanna, Neena Gupta, Ashish Vidyarthi
Director: Vikas Bahl
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Depiction of loss and grief on the big screen can strike a chord only if the emotions at the film’s heart are conveyed with genuine empathy and delineated with the requisite subtlety. In Goodbye, written and directed by Vikas Bahl, none of what could make it work over and beyond the surface level is allowed much space.
Goodbye will make you shed copious tears all right but leave you none the wiser about the act of processing of pain and tiding over it. The performances, despite Amitabh Bachchan headlining the cast, are rudimentary. The writing, while achieving an occasional sharp twinge, is inconsistent and aimed at the easily swayed.
The patchy funeral drama has a suitably sombre premise, but the broad-brush treatment of the plight of a Chandigarh family coping with the untimely death of a matriarch – the film revolves around the woman’s last rites stretching from the preparations for the cremation to the tehrvi, the 13th day of mourning – gives authenticity no chance.
Sluggish, insubstantial and meandering, Goodbye never acquires the sort of gravitas one would expect from a film that wants to pass itself off as a mature, sensitive exploration of sorrow and its manifestations. The wherewithal to fully measure up to that expectation eludes it. What is worse, some parts of the film only seem to trivialise the act of grieving and remembering.
Goodbye alternates between the morose and the mirthful. The latter component is provided primarily by a bunch of ladies from the neighbourhood who put on a brazenly fake show of sympathy for the bereaved. They fret far more over grabbing a comfortable chair, clicking a selfie or deciding on a name for a WhatsApp group. It is difficult to miss the hint of sexism here.
Goodbye opens with a disco number that goes ‘Hic hic hic’ and has a tipsy Tara Bhalla (Rashmika Mandanna) dancing without a care in the world. A budding lawyer in Mumbai, she has just won her first case. The next morning, as she wakes up all groggy, Tara realises that she has missed a series of calls from her dad Harish Bhalla (Amitabh Bachchan). The old man has bad tidings to convey: Tara’s mother Gayatri (Neena Gupta) is no more.
Tara has not seen eye to eye with her father for quite a while but she takes the first flight to Chandigarh to be by his side even as they continue to spar over little disagreements. As preparations get underway for the cremation, a stuck-up family friend P.P. Singh (Ashish Vidyarthi), a self-appointed guardian of tradition, barks instructions to all and sundry about rules and rituals.
Two of Tara’s brothers, including the married Los Angeles resident Karan (Pavail Gulati), are duly informed of the demise of their mother. They struggle to make their way back home from two different parts of the world. Karan arrives with his American wife, Daisy (Elli Avram), whose ignorance about what clothes to wear to a Hindu funeral causes some comic consternation. She is a quick learner but, continuing the film’s belief that women need schooling, never ceases to be a butt of ridicule.
A third brother is incommunicado. The audience is merely told about his existence but not about his whereabouts. We spend almost the entire length of the two-and-a-half-hour film wondering when this missing guy is going to show up and reinvigorate the funereal air that the film unsuccessfully seeks to sustain in a severely faltering second half.
The young man surfaces when he isn’t exactly needed anymore – the departed lady’s ashes have already been scattered in the Ganga and the family is back home for the tehrvi
Goodbye aspires to be a modern and rational film about a family coming to terms with the death of a dear one. So, it creates room for a young rebellious girl who pooh-poohs elaborate rituals and keeps harping on the fact that this simply isn’t the kind of final send-off that her free-spirited mother would have wanted.
Tara is a non-conformist in an orthodox family. Her boyfriend in Mumbai, where she works, is a guy called Mudassar. He accompanies her to Chandigarh for the funeral and serves as one of the four pall-bearers. A few eyebrows are raised but, with P.P. Singh holding his horses, all goes well. That apart, the Bhallas have a young maid who they treat like a family member. One begins to admire the film because Tara appears to having her way.
Sadly, courage deserts Goodbye in the second half. The family embarks on a journey to Rishikesh with Gayatri Bhalla’s ashes. There, they engage a chatty panditji (Sunil Grover) to preside over the ceremony. He spouts homilies about the centrality of religious rituals in life and death.
Tara registers her protest but she does so without the vehemence you expect from a girl with her own ideas about what constitutes the act of grieving for a lost one. Everything that you do not understand is not necessarily false, the cheerful priest says to Tara. He also tells her that she should celebrate the stories and memories that Gayatri has left for her.
If that sounds perfectly logical on the face of it, the priest’s pronouncements become a pretext for Goodbye to peddle a whole lot of conservative claptrap and allow emotions to be drowned in cloying sentimentality. Amitabh Bachchan’s character delivers a soliloquy to the urn that contains his wife’s ashes and enumerates all the acts of omission that he was guilty of when she was around in flesh and blood.
It is always easy to move audiences to tears with a story of bereavement designed to make the most of the cliches of the genre. But this is a film in which the only truly forlorn character is the family pet, a Golden Retriever named Stupid, who hangs around the portrait of the woman who brought him home as a puppy. The human characters around the canine are too erratically and laboriously fleshed out to be unswervingly effective.
The aforementioned garlanded photograph does a disappearing act when the departed woman’s third son arrives late in the film, blissfully unaware that she has passed on. But that is not as difficult to digest as a CGI crow that appears on the terrace and is believed to be embodying the soul of the dead as its awaits her passage to heaven.
Goodbye is mounted as a platform for Amitabh Bachchan. He does everything that is expected of him. Rashmika Mandanna holds her own amid the runaway mawkishness, giving the film its rare brighter moments. If only the character she plays was allowed to hold her ground and go to the extent of getting her dad and brothers to support her faith in rationalism, she would have lent Goodbye some much-wanted heft. Neena Gupta, whose character is dead at the outset of the film and who appears only in flashbacks, serves to liven up the proceedings. One wishes there was more of her.
Goodbye is crafted to deliver an unabashed workout for the lachrymal glands. Its grievously shallow methods undermine its avowed purpose.