Serious Men releases at a time, when the Uttar Pradesh state machinery has gone all out and try to cover up the Hathras tragedy that has been in the headlines of late. It is also interesting that it comes at a time when filmmakers like Pa. Ranjith and Nagaraj Manjule are giving voice to the Dalits of India.
Serious Men is based on the novel of the same name by Manu Joseph. It tracks the journey of resourceful Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who works at a prestigious scientific organisation in Mumbai as a PA for his boss Acharya (Naseer). Both come from different class and different caste while Ayan is from the lower caste, his boss belongs to the uppermost caste.
Ayyan is someone who understands the dynamics of the power play in the real world and how despite all the chest-thumping for merit, even the science academic and research world runs on the same principles of human society.
We sadly do not get to see the Acharya’s point of view. I must say it is prerogative of the filmmaker to retain what is there in the novel and add in his/her own contribution, but this ends up begin lopsided.
So when Ayyan sets out to plot against the unjust system, we just feel that Acharya is a boss with a bad temper and the whole thread of caste-based discrimination is missed, even when it is addressed in the film in a scene it is addressed in a lighter tone, the problem is not with tonality but it feels contrived as is he is using the situation to his advantage.
Had Serious Men been released before Pa. Ranjith, Nagaraj Manjule or Mari Selvaraj made their debut it would have been a different case. The under-representation of Dalits in our cinema is a concern, it is high time we give voice to them.
That said and done, Serious Men has its share of moments which reminds you of the capability of Sudhir Mishra. The film solely rests on Nawazuddin’s acting talent and it is his sheer brilliance that you don’t hate his character. Look out for the scene where he threatens a girl child who has discovered his secret, you actually root for him.
While the book was not just about father and son bonding, the film reduces to it. The momentum in the first half which focus on the caste divide is then later just attributed to class divide when the clear case in India is your caste decides the opportunities which you get in this nation.
All said and done, Serious Men is a step in the right direction and comes at the right time when the voice of the marginalised is being muzzled by the government.