Sanjeev Kumar, in an interview once mentioned that while Sholay’s climax scene was being shot, he requested director Ramesh Sippy to add a scene where he would hug his daughter-in-law, Radha, played by Jaya Bhaduri simply because he felt so sorry for her character. Though well-intended, the suggestion made no sense, especially when Thakur’s arms were chopped off and an embrace scene might hence look awkward.
In 102 Not Out, Rishi Kapoor’s character, Babulal Vakharia is one such character whom you want to hug till your tear glands wear out. Just like Sanjeev Kumar’s suggestion, this thought makes no sense, especially when you know it’s a white screen out there and what transpires on it is nothing but a filmed and edited reflection, even the character Babulal isn’t for real but a veteran actor who is completely different from what he portrays so excellently on screen. Nevertheless, there’s this urge of meeting up Babulal and gift him a cake from City Bakery on a Victoria Tonga ride. Seriously, when was the last time you ever felt so strongly for a character?
Umesh Shukla’s 102 Not Out is a triumph of writer Saumya Joshi and actors Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Jimit Trivedi as Babulal Vakharia, Dattatraya Vakharia and Dhiru. The film is based on one of the most successful Gujarati plays by Saumya Joshi that has been staged over 102 times, where actor Jayesh More played the father and Prem Gadhvi essayed the son’s role, while Hemin Trivedi played the ever-curious Dhiru.
Having watched the play twice, I was quite skeptic about watching its film adaptation. ‘How on earth could a play with three characters inside a mansion can ever be made into a feature film?’ I’d wonder, when the first look was out. Furthermore, being an ardent Amitabh Bachchan fan, I wasn’t much keen on watching him in that quirky avatar and nasal twang that reminds of Paa (Didn’t like Paa – What’s a Bachchan film with no Bachchan face and no Bachchan voice? Methinks, the other Bachchan, i.e. Abhishek was brilliant in it).
Director Umesh Shukla exorcises your demons of skepticism and senses used to the slickly edited music video kind of films, with his execution reminiscent of those ‘Inse miliye…’ kind of voiceovers in Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. Right from Vijay Raaz’s narration in the opening sequence, dialogue-baazi, drama, to the voiceover spoon-feeding the audience on the inner turmoil of the characters, 102 Not Out is unapologetically old school, yet cool to the core.
There’s a reason why despite Amitabh Bachchan’s brilliant performance, 102 Not Out leaves you feel strongly for Rishi Kapoor’s character. While the Father’s role shone all through the play, the film brings the Son’s role to the fore, not in writing, as it more or less remains the same as in the play, but through performance of Amitabh Bachchan, apart from of course, Rishi Kapoor.
Amitabh Bachchan approaches his role with the wit of Auro in Paa, depth of Harish Mishra in The Last Lear, nonchalance of Bhaskor in Piku. The telescope scenes remind you of his Mili days too. This actor’s face has such chameleonic range that he could express grief, contempt and love in a single scene, making it seem completely effortless. The scene in question here is towards the climax and any further detail would be criminal to type.
Now coming back to Rishi Kapoor’s role of Babulal, it’s the love demonstrated by his father’s character (Mere bete ko tere bete se jeetne nahin doonga’ he growls under his breath, yet with equal fervour as his ‘Mein aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin uthaata’ days).
Unlike any other film, the transition of Babulal’s character isn’t abrupt, yet sudden – Just like the flower he attempts to nurture in the film and it’s his father who makes the bloom possible.
Similarly, the Son’s character ‘blooms’ only because of the Father. Dattatraya’s immense love for Babulal is so beautifully portrayed on screen that it prepares the ground for Rishi Kapoor to perform. And boy, what performance this gem of an actor delivers! The transition of Babulal from stooped shouldered and grumpy faced old man to a confident and cheerful veteran is stuff legends are made of. It wouldn’t be wrong to proclaim that his role is a textbook on character transformation for every actor, writer and director worth their salt.
A jugalbandi, no matter how engaging, always needs a breather of another instrument or vocal to create a perfect harmony. Jimit Trivedi, as Dhiru, offers such breather in 102 Not Out of a third perspective, albeit switching sides all the time. Jimit Trivedi, who is already the poster boy of Gujarati films, especially as a comic actor, plays Dhiru to perfection. In hindsight, Dhiru is an extension of the narrator, who articulates what the audience might be wondering about – again, an old school approach of execution, which still wins hands down, especially because it allows you as an audience to have a ring-side view of what pans out between the father-son duo.
Those who often rue that we don’t have filmmakers with guts to make old-aged character -based films like ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, ‘Meet the parents’, ‘Father of the Bride’, ‘Bridges of Madison County’, ‘Amour’, ‘Iris’ or ‘The Intern’, Umesh Shukla’s 102 Not Out puts an end to your woes. Here’s a film that takes the ‘legacy’ of Cheeni Kum and Do Dooni Chaar forward, with coincidentally, the same ace actors.
Coming back to Sholay, Sanjeev Kumar’s suggestion of hugging and expressing sympathy for his daughter-in-law wasn’t executed in the film, yet he made that embrace felt through the empathetic look in eyes. I could ‘see’ similar empathy in the voice of people walking out of the auditorium after watching 102 Not Out.
After all, speaking with lump in the throat is never easy, nor is driving home with moist eyes. If words could embrace a character, here’s one for Babulal. The film will be remembered even after a century – 102 Years to go, yo!
Here’s my tribute to the two legends of Indian Cinema: