Sunday, February 21, 2016

The best representation of an Indian middle class family - Khosla Ka Ghosla

I assume that you all would have seen the Khosla ka Ghosla. If not, then do yourselves a favor and watch it. This along with 'Bheja Fry' started the trend of small budget, non-slapstick, colloquial comedies, with Bollywood then destroyed by churning out innumerable cheap copies very fast, the same way they destroy every genre.

But its merit as a movie is not the point I wanted to talk about here, but how it most accurately described the typical Indian middle class family. We (the assumed readers of this blog) are the 80s and 90s generation, much has been written about us but now we have been largely forgotten because the Millennials are now hogging all the ink, except for the occasional memes like “if you remember this you had an awesome childhood” which surface on Facebook every once in a while. But even less is and was written about our parent’s generation, the people who were born in late 50s or early 60s. The people born into free India, the people who saw one war lost and two won. They had the ‘cautious optimism’ the term that we often read about in the so-called financial market news. They saw the euphoria of independence and the idea of how we can be whatever we wanted to be of the 50s and also the economic stagnation and unemployment of the 70s. Back in their days having a telephone was a status symbol, a scooter had a one year waiting period and buying a house was something you saved for your entire life.

And buying a house is what the movie starts off with, rather buying a piece of land on which the house is supposed to be built upon. Anupam Kher’s character K. K. Khosla short for Kamal Kishore Khosla (referred as KKK from here on) put’s his life’s savings or his provident fund money, which was the working class’ life savings, into buying a house where his kids can have some space for themselves. This was the most typical thing of our parent’s generation, to save it all for the kids. Spending money on yourself was an absolute no no after you have kids, from the vacation destinations to menu for dinner was decided keeping in mind what the kids would like. While I am certainly thankful to them for what they did, but I really do wish that they spent some more time and money on themselves. Investing was a totally unheard of thing except in gold, the mandatory PF and the new mysterious thing called LIC which the neighboring Uncle’s brother claimed was a very good thing and should definitely be taken. As the movie progresses K. K. Khosla reminds me of my dad very often and so would he remind you of yours.

The scene where they discuss the new name for Cherry is the first one that pops up in my head, when KKK is watching news and his wife tells the kids to keep quiet. All dad’s news watching time was sacrosanct, more important than their prayer time, absolute silence had to be maintained, TV room had to be vacated and meals and other things were planned around news time so as to leave dad undisturbed and free when he watched the news. And watching the news was serious business; actually DD news was serious business with none of sensationalism and ridiculous headlines as of today, it was succinct, to the point, and wrapped in 30 odd minutes. Remember the days when movies on DD had a news break? That’s when I ran away to do my homework and stuff, mom got up to make dinner and dad sat there for the most important thing of the day.

Second scene that really nails the middle class family dynamic is the scene where KK Khosla tells his wife to tell Cherry to drop his plan to dupe Khurana. The indirect communication is the most typical of all middle class families where Mom was the go through, she was the one who was able to talk to both sides. My Dad did that every time he was angry or disagreed with what I was doing, actually he still does that. He tells my mom to tell me to do stuff, to not spend money on eating out a lot, to be not too late if I’m going out, to find out why I want to change my job etc. etc.  Even phone calls with Dads in all our families are the same, he goes on to ask the basic questions like “How are you, How is your job going. Do you need anything” and then mom takes over to ask the real questions. And the reverse is also true, whenever I wanted permission for something I went to my mom first and her answer was always ask your dad and my reply was that you ask dad that I want this. Then she would break it to my dad; that is if the request wasn’t too ridiculous to be directly rejected by her and then my dad would call me and say “You mom is saying that you want to…..” I never had the gall to ask my dad directly about wanting a new cycle or spending a night at my friend for studying or any of those things. Dads in that generation were I guess supposed to be tough and authoritarian and a bit distant, they were supposed to play with their kids and indulge them but never to molly coddle them or use baby talk or try to be their friend; that kind of stuff was left to moms. Because of strictly defined gender roles maybe.

Moms knew how to diffuse a situation and to play referee as well. They knew the subtext and reasons behind every argument, like women nearly always do and we man at most time have no clue. Dads of their generation pretty much never knew the likes and dislikes of their kids, they spent most of their time working and the remaining time worrying. Heck my dad still thinks I like Dairy Milk and my brother likes Aaloo Matar even though we only did that when we were five. This was outlined by the scene where KKK buys whiskey to bond with his sons and then gets shocked and embarrassed when Cherry says that he doesn’t drink. While this is certainly better than my Granddad’s generation, the brother of my grandfather had 9 kids and did not even know the ages of some of them, but this is still kind of bad to not know that your son is teetotaler or not. Perhaps our generations will do a little better in knowing their kids and the generation after that still a little better.

The whiskey scene is preceded by the scene where he goes out to buy the bottle, he is thoroughly embarrassed and hides the bottle while coming back. There is also a scene where one of Cherry’s girlfriend’s friend comes in smoking and she tells her to put it out. KK Khosla knows why the girl is in his house, she is there because they are trying to swindle Khurana for a lot of money, but while cheating and fraud can be tolerated by him, a girl smoking certainly cannot. Alcohol and Cigarettes were the biggest taboo of that generation, no matter how many songs Rajesh Khanna sang with a glass in his hand and how many smoke rings Helen blew, this was still taboo in homes. Buying booze was still shady business and drinking it had to be in secret, quickly and behind closed doors. My dad drank his tea outside in the porch on Sundays but his whisky was always only in his room or in the drawing room when he had company with curtains drawn. He did not even throw the booze bottles in the waste bin, not because he was very environmentally conscious, but he did not want everyone seeing that we had whiskey bottles in the trash and by inference in our home. We still have situations where two generations, that is him, my uncles etc. sit and drink in one room and we sit and drink in another, both fully knowing what is going on in the other room. Add a smoking girl in this mix and all hell will break loose.

And finally I want to talk the very first scene of the movie, which is the best and most tragi-comic. Comic because of the obvious jokes being made there and I will talk about talk about the tragic part after this. The first scene is his funeral, a dream sequence of course, this is not American Beauty or Sunset Boulevard. On his funeral one guy comes with a bill and his wife rejects it, saying “Ye nahi rahe to kuch bhi bill doge? Chinese calculator pe ek ek cheez ka hisaab rakhte the”. That in a nutshell was the finance policy of the Indian middle class household, penny wise and pound fool. They kept a check on the most miniscule of things like how much they spent on buying milk and which vendor has the cheapest vegetables but never on the bigger stuff, whether they can invest their money on anywhere else than PPF, was the home loan being offered really came with best interest rate, were they actually losing money on their old scooter. All my lives my parents spent too much time and effort on spending less, never on earning more; even talking about the way to earn more was the equivalent of being greedy. And interest rates, stocks, cost of ownership etc.? All those were left to Harshad Mehta and other Gujrati businessmen.

The last but the foremost, the tragedy that he thinks will happen when he dies is the greatest tragedy of the middle class, small dreams and small disappointments. KKK’s nightmare was that when he will die his daughter would be wearing a jeans, his son will be late in office, other son will be talking tall about a watch, wife would only be worried about how to cook for so many people and the cancelled trip to Bangladesh, neighboring boys will lech at his daughter and the newspaper boy will charge him extra. If that is worst fear when you die that you either had a very good life or a very mediocre or perhaps both. Which was the case of that generation, the dreams and nightmares were both small. Whenever Amitabh Bachchan tried to reach for the stars he was always humbled at the end of the movie, either by giving up his dream or being shot in the abdomen, only the bad men got rich very fast. Actually movies of a generation are a very good indicator of its aspirations, fears and rebellions. KKK’s generation prized mother over cars & bungalows, thought of running away with Bobby as a rebellion, even second cousins were family, getting a job deserved running with joy to your mom and saying “Maa ashirwad de maa, mujhe naukri mil gayi” and they believed that fate would unite everyone by the climax. The next generation does not believe in fate, it believes that if you want to correct Khurana’s wrong then you have to do it yourself, by hook or by crook.

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