I remember reading Andre Agassi‘s autobiography ‘Open‘ a few years ago and marveling at that piece of literature. The book narrates Andre’s life and chronicles how he transformed people’s perception of him from a ‘punk’ to a ‘legend.’ However, his struggle began not at the court, but at home, where he was coaxed to swing a racket as a toddler by his ambitious father who had a plan even before Andre knew right from wrong. It made me think of innumerable instances where a parent’s choices decide a child’s fate, and I wondered if there would ever be a film made on this concept. Now, years later, I don’t have to wonder anymore thanks to ‘Serious Men,’ released on Netflix on October 2nd 2020.
Adapted from its namesake book by journalist Manu Joseph, ‘Serious Men‘ is an Indian film directed by Sudhir Mishra and produced by Bombay Fables and Cineraas Entertainment. In his pursuit of a better life for his son and his family, Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) manufactures a genius-like image for his son, Adi (Aakshath Das) through a fraudulent ploy. This hoax seems to be working well for the family as schools offer him a scholarship, the state is felicitating him with awards, even Obama starts to follow him on Instagram. However, things go sideways when the secret is leaked, and Mani is left with fewer choices as his family’s credibility is at stake while he starts to witness the adverse impact it has on Adi’s mental health.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the character of Ayyan Mani in all earnestness. We see him going from a controlling father to a submissive employee in the blink of an eye. For me, the star of the movie was 9-year-old Aakshath Das. It isn’t easy to share the frame with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, but Aakshath does it impeccably and leaves his mark on the audiences.
‘Serious Men‘ begins as a satire on social issues such as ill-practiced religious conversion, casteism, school admissions, etc. but loses its grip with nuisances that aren’t needed. Even though I am not sure I understood the film’s climax, the film does an excellent job of depicting a common man’s hustle to find a better life for his family regardless of moral or ethical implications, especially if the chips were stacked against him for generations. The film also does a decent job portraying the adverse effects on a child’s development if the child is under constant pressure to live up to parents expectations.
Overall, barring the actors’ performances, I wish Serious Men was executed a little better with a tighter storyline and effective dialogues.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel