They say that it takes a thousand lies to cover up one lie. Consider it like quicksand – the more you struggle, the deeper it gets as the jaws of the sand swallow you. Dragging along his son with him into this metaphorical quicksand, Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) tries to wiggle his way out of the traps, several of which he has set up himself; and some the consequence of the world we’re living in.
Arbitrary social boundaries are something that is weirdly ubiquitous for us humans. Be it Race, Color, Creed or which political leaning you fall on, we have always pioneered creating divisions. Stuck on the other side of such an arbitrary bound, Mani, a Dalit man trying to rise through the social ladder. Rather, it is him taking his son up the ladder and the consequences of having a limited foresight. Based on a novel of the same name by Manu Joseph, Serious Men captures the very essence of living in such a divisive society – the apparent unattainability of upward social mobility.
Ayyan Mani is a Dalit Personal Assistant of a Brahmin Scientist, who likes to take his anger and bitterness out on his subordinates. Here, especially it is not just about the caste but also about the class. Ayyan Mani is not just of a lower caste but he is also poor. The treatment meted out to him by anyone who considers himself superior reflects this mentality. Incensed and at unfairness, he sets on a crusade to give his son an upper hand in society. While it is just, and in many ways admirable, the means towards his goals are what Serious Men ultimately hinges on and draws much of its conflict from. It is an intense movie, something that is undeniable in today’s world, especially in today’s time.
The plot of Serious Men revolves around the antics he conjures up to prop his son up as an inhuman genius who is simply too advanced for other peoples “primitive minds”. There is a caveat to this, which you will understand as you watch the movie. A particularly interesting aspect is the dialogue on merit; a common narrative is that merit should be the basis for education and reservations are just a farce. However, the world does not exist in such a vacuum and several factors influence a lower caste individuals journey towards social respect and security. At its very core, Serious Men is a through and through work of satire that intends on shaming the antiquated social hierarchy that somehow still is as pervasive and invasive as it was 50 years ago. Mani’s son, Adi, is just an innocent victim to the perils of the adult world – while his father is also a victim, his way of redemption is what the film focuses on.
While the social aspect Serious Men is nothing short of brilliant, the performances are equally brilliant if not more. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a man with the expressive bandwidth that is so far reaching that it is nothing short of incredible. He somehow dons the avatar of his characters so flawlessly you forget about the man behind the character. Ayyan Mani, to me, felt like another man so real and tangible. You can hear the anguish in his mannerisms, his actions. Sheer desperation, an intense rage and more than that an inextinguishable desire to give his son an upper hand are what drives the character of Mani. This very multi-dimensional character has been beautifully brought to life by the incredible actor that he is. To some extent, much of the performances in the show are shadowed by Mani, but not to its detriment. It acts as a means to highlight his anger and frustration. His wife, Oja, played by Indira Tiwari is just as good. She does not have much of a role in the plot, but it is very reflective of what women face as the very bottom rung of the social hierarchy of caste.
Coming to the character of Adi, played by the very young and gleaming Aakshat Das, was another very integral aspect of what the film is trying to portray. Every single dialogue is expressive and beautifully put, the way he says things like a parrot is endearing at first and eventually becomes concerning. Sudhir Mishra, who directed this film, excels at portraying the common man and he has pulled it off once again. This time, it was sensational to say the least.
Serious Men relies entirely on its narrative prowess and characters to push the plot forwards, the music is merely an accessory. It is poignant, powerful and nothing short of sensational. It is definitely a must watch for anyone who is looking for something with depth, but it is very entertaining as well. A mature storyline coupled with brilliant performances – Serious Men is one of the best movies to come out of the Netflix Stables.