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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Hope Aur Hum, Review: Hoping against hope

Hope Aur Hum, Review: Hoping against hope

Small-budget indies with clean, wholesome, slice of life content, surface regularly, taking you through bittersweet emotions, sans villains and super-heroes, animation and SFX. You appreciate the effort and admire the commitment. Some go on to win awards and renew your faith in alternate cinema. Some others sink without a trace, unable to match market demands and not measuring up to narrative benchmarks. Still others entertain and engage, raise hopes within us, but leave you wondering if they’ll keep pace. Hope Aur Hum, appropriately titled, belongs to the third category.

Set in a present day city (looks like a fishing village in suburban Mumbai), Hope Aur Hum is the story of the Srivastava family. Nagesh (Naseerudin Shah) is the oldest, the grandfather, a widower, who runs a photocopying business, using an effete German machine that was once a state-of-the art object but has now deteriorated drastically, so much so that its prints are barely visible. Nagesh hopes to find a replacement lens that, he is sure, will bring it back to its original glory.

Nagesh's younger son Nitin (Naveen Kasturia) lives a comparatively lavish life in the city of gold, aka Dubai, and has a penchant for visiting unannounced. While he avoids all attempts of his sister-in-law Aditi (Sonali Kulkarni) to get married, he is disappointed that his neighbourly crush has got engaged. But it is the loss of his mobile phone that is going to lead him to his romantic destiny (Neha Chauhan).

Little Anu, short for Anurag, (Kabir Sajid), Nagesh's grandson, is a jovial and active kid, who loves to play cricket. His life will change once he lands up with his parents at his grandmother (Beena Banerjee)’s palace in Rajpipla. Seeing and hearing an old gramophone player, playing Brazilian jazz, finding a little girl hiding in a huge treasure chest and watching a wedding procession, palanquin and all, have strange impacts on him, and he begins to behave irrationally.

Anu’s father Neeraj (Aamir Bashir) has a secure job, and is the calming influence on the family. He advises the family on matters related to the Rajpipla estate but does not have the heart to ask his father to put an end to the humongous photo-copier saga by dumping it as junk, thereby making way for Tanu (Anu’s older sister, played by Virti Vaghani)’s study room.

Now, let’s see what age would the characters answer to, in ascending order. Anu could be 6-7, Tanu 9-10, the neighbour who gets engaged (Tina Sood?) 24-25, the mystery girl 25-26, Nitin 26-27, Aditi 30-31, Neeraj 34-35, Nagesh 64-65, Grandmother 74-75. That is just the family. Obviously, there is an assortment of persons of all ages, 5 upwards. So, what is your target audience, a question as film-maker turned feature helmer Sudip Bandyopadhyay would have most likely been asked by his ‘bosses’, maybe the producers. This is what he told a publication:

“My nine-year-old daughter asked me if I was going to direct a film. When I said yes, she replied back with something that surprised me. She said, 'Papa, I'll never be able to watch the film you make because I don't think it will be age appropriate.' That's when it struck me that I should be making a film that can be watched by everyone between the age of eight and 80."

Let’s allow some flexibility, and stretch the mark down to five. That makes 5 to 80. Have there not been films before that appealed to such a wide audience? Indeed there have. Only problem is they have been of exceptional quality. And Hope Aur Hum is good, not exceptionally so.

I would have been very surprised indeed if most, if not all characters had not been picked from the writer-director’s childhood or struggle days. Confession: “I was studying in Kolkata when I first met an old uncle who used to operate a box camera machine that used to enlarge copies in a most intensive and unusual mechanical process.” And as the part took shape, it donned the garb of Naseeruddin Shah, no less, no one else.

At the cost of being utterly predictable, let us accept this bit of casting which could never go wrong. So remember that Naseer is a keen cricket buff and there is a lot of cricket on Hope Aur Hum. Co-writer Neha Pawar and Sudip should then explain the need to integrate so many age gradations into one family, and putting all their eggs in one basket? No wonder the narrative goes off tangentially, with Bandyopadhyay and Pawar unable to keep it cohesive, even for the normally manageable 96 minutes that the film has to run through.

Naseeruddin Shah does not bring anything new to the role. He been there, done that. So he does it again here. Beena Banerjee (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Chandni, Khiladi, Koi Mil Gaya) shows amazing longevity of career and looks just right. Naveen Kasturia (Sulemani Keeda, Love Shudda, Half Ticket) fits in perfectly. Even his fast dialogue delivery goes with the role. Sonali Kulkarni (Mission Kashmir, Singham, Rahenge Sadaa Gardish Mein Taare) needs little to do to blend in. Aamir Bashir (A Wednesday, Peepli Live, Haidar) is the surprise packet, effortless as a cruising aircraft. Virti Vaghani needs to be worked on for her dialogue delivery. Sajid Kabir (Secret Superstar) shows expressions that you would associate with much older persons. It’s no secret—he’s a scene stealer.

Rupert Fernandes has composed three songs, sung by Suraj Jagan, Shaan and Bhoomi Trivedi. They are written by Saurabh Dikshit, in the common language style epitomised by Gulzar that says a lot while sounding innocuous. Production Design by Tapas Singha (he made the gigantic, obsolete copier), Make-up by Asmita Chikane and Vinod Upadhya are competently executed. The producers have specially thanked Ravi K. Chandran (My Name Is Khan, Ghajini, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi), the Director of Photography. Of course he’s done a good job. The thanks could be for being especially accommodating.

Take the title now: Hope Aur Hum. English and Hindi. Catchy? No. Reads optimistic, feels pessimistic. Luckily, there is an old world charm to the film and performances are of a high order. The end, disappointingly, is a clever idea gone overboard, by trying to be clever and a half. It is out of place, given the narrative that had been unfolding till then, and terribly indulgent. Possibilities gone awry, chances gone a begging, and a niche audience that might be craving for more.

In many ways, the film is about letting go. Letting go also means leaving things to hope. Hope Aur Hum raises hope, but then lets it all go.


Rating: **

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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