I went into watching Dharma Productions' latest We Are Family, directorial debut of Siddharth Malhotra, not really expecting much, besides a curiosity to see the two female leads Kajol and Kareena Kapoor. The title seemed mundane, promos looked uninspired and the music failed to create a buzz. I walked out with mixed feelings. The film lacks originality in the narrative and is aesthetically unimaginative. It also tries too hard to make you weep. But to my surprise, I found We Are Family somewhat enjoyable, if only because of great performances and brisk pacing.
Malhotra’s We Are Family is based on the Susan Sarandon-Julia Roberts starrer Stepmom (1998), directed by Chris Columbus. The story here follows almost exactly the same trajectory as the original but with desi situations, a few songs, and a fattening dose of Indian-style melodrama. Kajol plays Maya, a divorced mother of three, whose delicately balanced relationship with her ex-husband Aman (Arjun Rampal) is shaken when he introduces his girlfriend Shreya (Kareena Kapoor) to the family. Expectedly, Shreya is shunned from the family despite trying her hardest to fit in, until Maya discovers she has terminal cancer. She then decides to make Shreya an appropriate substitute mother for her children after she dies. What follows is a story about shifting family dynamics and passing the mommy baton from one woman to the other. But wait, there must be drama first!
Maya’s character is sketched out as the perfect mother, with really no other personality traits. At one point in the film, one of her kids says, “I want to go into publishing, like my mom.” Not once do we see Maya enter any sort of professional arena in the film, so where did this sudden career come from? You can establish that she is a good mother by showing a balance of professional and family life, especially since she is a single mother and probably needs to work overtime to support three children. However, Kajol lends to this character her utmost sincerity and signature spontaneity. She doesn’t go overboard and succeeds at evoking sympathy at the latter stages of the film.
Kapoor, as Shreya, displays a maturity enabling her to demand as much of the viewer’s attention as Kajol. She makes believable the ambitious career woman afraid of motherhood, except for the laughable heart-to-heart between the two women where Maya tells Shreya: “You’re a woman, so you are a mom.” Point made, I wonder why the film didn’t end right there! Shreya’s interactions with the children are most notable and provide many of the light moments in the film.
Unfortunately, the two women are so powerful that the male lead is left as a mute and dreary figure stuck on a seesaw. What hurts the film is a string of implausible situations. For example, after hearing about Maya’s illness, how does Aman instantly agree to drop Shreya from his life when a minute ago he wanted to marry her? Also the mom training for Shreya comes off more as an unpaid internship, a good housekeeper for the dying Maya. The plainness of the locations and sets also becomes a drag on the story. We’ve come to expect sanitized suburban homes from Dharma films, but neither the interior sets nor the Sydney locale add much to the story or the characters.
However, one of the best things about the film is that the story moves at a quick pace, and rarely veers off course. There are no irritating subplots and no distractions by romantic tracks. The dialogs, for the most part, are casual and short. No ten-minute monologues or morality debates here. The children in the film were surprisingly not as annoyingly overdone as they tend to be in such big budget family dramas.
Karan Johar must be lauded for his professionalism as producer. With Pretty Woman (in Kal Ho Naa Ho) and now Stepmom and the Elvis classic Jailhouse Rock (probably the only effective song in the film), he's shown credibility by legally Indianizing Western pop culture instead of the usual unashamed imitating that goes on. On the whole, We Are Familyis not a bad film, but it also isn’t strikingly original. Kajol and Kareena Kapoor are the saving graces. They may not provide the slugfest we were all hoping for but the cold stares and awkward bonding prove to be entertainment enough in this case.