Movie Review: We Are Family

We are Family

This movie, which stars Arjun Rampal as the recently divorced Aman, is based on the US movie, Stepmom. Having never seen Stepmom, I can’t comment on how it compares to the original.

Anyway, Aman is a photographer who is amicably divorced from Maya. They have three children ranging in age from 6 to 13. The children stay with their mother. Aman is a devoted dad. Maya appears to be a stay-at-home mom who is a bit over-protective and, yes, a perfect mother.

Aman has met someone else whom he loves, fashion designer Shreya. Aman introduces her to his ex and his children and it does not go well. You wouldn’t expect the older kids to take it well and they didn’t. I was surprised by how un-nice Maya was about it and in particular that she actively participated in and encourages her older children in speaking badly about Shreya. Shreya has no experience with children and pre-teens and she’s getting sabotaged by the kids, particularly the eldest daughter, and Maya. Tough times. They get even tougher when Aman caves in to Maya’s insistence that Shreya not be around her kids ever.

Maya gets diagnosed with cancer and Aman is there to support her. She’s not responding well to the treatment, and Aman tells Shreya that he’s moving back with Maya. He’s doing it for the kids. What he does not do is tell Shreya that he still loves her, but they are not happy apart. And yet, there is this strong hint (touching hands!) that Aman is having sex with Maya. Maybe. Hard to say. There’s no scene where Aman has a separate bedroom. Maya’s condition gets worse and basically, she asks Shreya to move into the house and be ready to take her place when she dies.

So, there’s Aman living with two women, his ex-wife and his ex(?)-girlfriend and the movie never really addresses the issue of who loves who (or in what way) and who’s sleeping (or not) with who. Shreya continues to have a hard time because Maya continues to allow the children to act-out and to also actively sabotage Shreya with Aman and it’s all a little odd. Maya is dying and it’s really sad and Shreya is trying to cope with all the petty little hates and her love for Aman and Aman, I have to agree, is in a hard place because he’s a decent man doing a very decent thing in support of Maya and his kids, who are, after all, losing their mother.

Then Maya asks Shreya to remind her eldest daughter on the occasion of her future marriage that her mother loved her and it’s really sad and then it’s a few years later at the daughter’s marriage and you can see that Aman and Shreya and the kids are fine and that they have never forgotten their mother.

The take Away

This was a well done movie with great production values. Rampal is really really good in it and so are the two women. But I just don’t understand the failure to clarify the relationships between Aman, Maya and Shreya. It’s … odd … to think that he might be sleeping with them both and unsettling to think he would be sleeping with Maya only, when it’s Shreya he loves. Is he getting any? Is he having pity sex with Maya?

What does any of that say about the role of women? Is Shreya just supposed to shut up and watch the man she loves have sex within the “marriage” he’s returned to? Would she really be OK with him doing them both? Or is he silently suffering and not having sex with anyone while he waits until it might be appropriate to pick up with Shreya when things are less of an emotional disaster for everyone? But THERE WAS THAT WHOLE HAND HOLDING THING between Aman and Maya and only one bed and no sign ever that he was sleeping on the couch or whatever.

Still, it was a good movie. High marks.

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8 Responses to “Movie Review: We Are Family”

  1. Suleikha says:

    There’s no “failure to clarify.” It’s pretty implicit in the film that he’s not having sex with EITHER of them when they’re all living together.

    My takeaway from it was that it was Maya and Shreya who were making the real emotional connection and Aman was just secondary to their bond. It’s very much a film about women and what they go through to make a family work. It really plays into the Indian values of hearth and home and women being the strength in the face of men’s weakness.

  2. I’m not so sure it is implicit, though I would agree that the “failure” to address that openly is a strong argument that the subject was not intended to be front and center — because then the movie would be very different. I agree completely that it’s about the two women adjusting and even more about Shreya leaving her career for her “real” role as a mother and homemaker.

    But if there’s to be no question of where Aman is sleeping and with who, why do we never find out where he sleeps? There’s no shot of him on a couch or in another room. We know that Shreya has her own bedroom quite alone and that Maya has a bedroom in which Aman is plainly welcome — because we see him there very shortly after he moves back (and before she is desperately ill). The hand touching scene takes place in Maya’s bedroom which, presumably, Aman fully shared with her prior to their divorce and to which he has now returned.

    The camera focuses for several seconds on Aman’s caress of Maya’s hand. To me, that touch and slide of fingers was quite overtly sexual and very much in line with the level of suggestiveness of other such films (from my admittedly small sample so far). He has returned to his marriage for better or worse because that is where, arguably, he belongs in the family.

    The title, after all, is “We Are Family” (But then, I don’t know what the title was in Hindi, but I’m guessing someone knowingly chose the English one.) And to me “we” includes Aman and his role as husband, father and provider.

    Quite possibly wrongly, I still think the issue of sex was present subtextually and that at the very least there was an implication that he was having sex with Maya at least initially. I think we were to assume he was not doing so with Shreya.

  3. Suleikha says:

    We Are Family is both the international and domestic title. There isn’t a Hindi translation.

    if there’s to be no question of where Aman is sleeping and with who, why do we never find out where he sleeps?

    Because that’s not something, generally, meant to preoccupy a viewer of Indian films. Unless you’re watching a sex farce, a “blue film,” or something that’s been marketed to have an overtly sexual tone, like a thriller. Where Aman sleeps, if he’s sleeping with anybody or spending his nights singing along to chorus of Pink’s “U + Ur Hand,” is not part of the narrative deliberately. The hand touching is exactly as sexual as the film is meant to be. Similar to the gazebo scene in KKHH… their expression of intimacy stops right there.

    That, of course, doesn’t mean viewers don’t/can’t think about who may or not be getting it on. But unless you actually see it, or hear it addressed in the dialogue, it’s not supposed to be an issue.

    • Suleikha: I just don’t have enough context to place my viewing of the movie in any culture but my own. My viewing, for example, is informed by the set of codes that arose in Hollywood cinema once the censors got involved back in the 40’s and 50s’s and prohibited certain events in movies. We got ridiculous things like a husband and wife having two bed and someone’s foot having to be on the floor, and, of course, as has happened throughout Western history, the emergence of a set of coded visuals and contextual displacements to stand in for the things censors did not permit. Movies made in the 20’s and 30’s can be quite shocking in their sexual content for viewers who are used to the sanitized content that came after the censors. Elizabethan literature is full of coded language, for example, and the films of the 40’s and 50’s are also full of coded visuals that stand in for prohibited sexual content. Modern viewers of Shakespeare, for example, miss or misunderstand a lot of subtextual content that Elizabethan playgoers understood quite well, such as verbal and even visual puns involving the fact that men played the roles of women.

      Thus, for me, hand-touching was something I quickly interpreted as code. I have absolutely no knowledge of the history of Indian film and any censorship, whether it’s overt or cultural or coded in some way. So I’m at a disadvantage in arriving at an interpretation that isn’t affected by my own set of biases and experiences.

  4. Suleikha says:

    I think for good examples of Indian movies that are actually supposed to be coded sexually, you can look back at the late ’60s/early ’70s. There was some great, groundbreaking stuff being done. Check out this famous sequence from Aradhana: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HenA-OUyo0s

    There is no question about what these two are about to get up to. It’s viewed as one of the sexiest song picturizations of all time.

    Then there’s this, from 1973’s Bobby: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBJj-3sgcd0 The lyrics literally translate to “you and I are locked in a room and the key is lost.”

    India has very strict censor rules — arbitrary ones, too — and it really does tend to be an either/or situation. Unless a love scene (implied or overt) is placed within a musical context, it’s pretty much what you see is what you get. In fact, romantic musical numbers — particularly ones in the rain — are almost supposed to take the place of sex.

  5. Julie Anderson says:

    Interesting conversation ladies, thanks.
    Suleikha,
    That was Switzerland, right? (The Rishi Kapoor video). I read it was a popular romantic destination for Indians, but thought that was because of DDLJ (my favorite Indian movie so far). This movie was clearly before that. I’d love to hear some of your Hindi film recommendations.

    Carolyn,
    As a young girl in the 1970s I used to love watching old movies. I was always pleasantly surprised by the portrayals of women as very strong and ambitious individuals in the films from the 1930s. It was strange to me that even women in the 70s didn’t seem to match their level of confidence and seeming competence. We lost a lot of ground somewhere.

  6. Julie:

    Yes, the movies prior to the US film censor are really eye-opening. We did lose a lot of ground, but have fought hard to get that back and more.

    Suleuka: Thanks for those links. That second one sure looked like CH to me. And that scene around the fire, definite smoking!

  7. Suleikha says:

    Julie: I don’t actually know if Bobby was shot in Switzerland, but many, many Hindi films were! Long before DDLJ it was a huge honeymoon destination spot. In fact, DDLJ was basically paying homage to the classic trope!

    Believe me, I’ve got a list of Hindi movie recommendations longer than my arm, starting with some lovely stuff from the ’50s… and India’s black and white era lasted well into the early ’60s!

    It’s just a shame because so many films are lost or copied to DVD poorly.