There are days when you want to hang up your boots and breathe deep, removing yourself from the humdrum of life and not do anything at all. There are seasons – like the first rains hitting the ground or that first snowflake artistically cascading down to kiss the grass underneath – that make you want to wrap your palms around a mug of coffee and simply stare out your window, probably contemplating the mysteries of life and just being in the moment. Content, still, mindfully idle.
Hope aur Hum is exactly the kind of movie that feels like those not-too-happening days darting from frustration to disappointment to agony to deliberate silence, before bouncing off to become those other days where you are greeted with nothing but bursts of joy and textbook optimism.
A debut feature film of ad filmmaker Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Hope aur Hum starts off by placing an old, faulty photocopy machine (affectionately named Mr.Soennecken) and patriarch Nagesh Srivastava’s (Naseeruddin Shah) decades-long bond with it, a nostalgia he refuses to give up on, despite his customers’ obvious displeasure with the machine’s performance.
Nagesh, who, on more than one occasion, effusively talks about the outdated German machine hailing it as a state-of-the-art beauty, and the act of producing photocopies an art in itself, is repeatedly nudged by his sons and his daughter-in-law – older Neeraj (Aamir Bashir) and his wife Aditi (Sonali Kulkarni), and the younger Nitin (Naveen Kasturia) – to replace the outdated photocopier with a modern, efficient one; suggestions he glosses over, preferring to romanticise his fondness for Mr.Soennecken instead.
The only ones who empathize with him are his grandchildren Tanu (Virti Vaghani) and her younger brother Anu (Kabir Sajid), despite the fact that such support would mean they would have to continue sharing a room, which could very well have been allotted to adolescent Tanu, as Aditi wonders aloud one evening, resentfully. To add to this resentment, there is her husband’s overdue promotion at work to lament about, robbing away the slightest sliver of hope Aditi could have held on to.
Against this background, there is a question that persistently hangs in the air – will making way for some room and a new way of life mean discarding the old German photocopier, and in turn, stepping over Nagesh’s attachment with the obsolete machine?
It is an ordinary setting and intensely metaphorical, of the old trying to come to terms with their value past their thrive date, of adults struggling to grapple with the motions of life (that is frequently unkind and disappointing) and of growing children looking out into the world from a perspective neither adults nor the elderly can understand nor emulate.
Plenty of meandering happens in this context – maternal grandmother’s (Beena Banerjee) resigned decision to sell off her palatial old haveli to a hotel chain is roped in for some added drama, via an experience and a promising sub-plot that deviates from the predictable mundaneness of the story and hints at mystery. This strange incident Anu experiences in a dark, forgotten room in the mansion though, is abandoned in favor of lending a silken, hopeful touch to the climax of the film. That said, child actor Kabir’s scenes in the mansion and thereafter are powerful, pulling us in crests and troughs, as we ride on the wave of emotions so effortlessly portrayed by him.
Coupled with his cheeky squabbles with the older, feisty Tanu, his thoughtful support of his grandpa’s love for Mr.Soennecken, and his innocent outlook on life, are an absolute delight to watch. Needless to say, Kabir Sajid, who last gave an outstanding performance in Secret Superstar, continues to wow the audience with each endeavor and doesn’t look like he will fade like one-hit wonders usually do.
To be fair, Kabir is not the only thing to look forward to in a simplistic tale like Hope aur Hum. We have Naveen Kasturia (TVF fame) as Nitin, Nagesh’s younger son, who stirs things up with his freshness and easy charm. Back from Dubai for a vacation before he sets off on a Europe trip, he brings in tow a brand-new photocopy machine, fully expecting his aging father to warm up to this gentle, but very direct suggestion: Pop, it’s time to get rid of Mr.Soennecken.
And while the suggestion is in itself pointless and draws mere disinterested looks from Nagesh, Naveen’s very presence in this cramped, cluttered house leads him on to a trail of strange but exciting events that help in drastically changing the overall tone of the movie. He loses his flashy smartphone in a taxi on the way home, spends a couple of days frantically looking for it in the Srivastava house, before being led on a journey of hope and a shot at (elusive love?) by none other than the pretty girl who’d ‘rescued’ his phone in the taxi – ostensibly playing the good Samaritan, but with undertones that went deeper than what met the eye.
Interestingly, as the film moves at a languorous pace, Nitin’s brush with the “phone girl” and his peaking interest in what this chance encounter held for them both, towers over Hope aur Hum’s original central theme, and buttresses Nagesh’s wistful, meditative view of life, where “Everything is destiny.” A pleasant surprise awaits the audience as the movie draws to a close, and appears to be a more viable thread of events to base a sequel on, than the one the present movie is based on.
Kasturia’s brilliance lies in his easy charm, and the nervous uncertainty he brings to Nitin – making his character look affable and instantly likable. Paired well with his laidback yet buoyant demeanor is a sensual, exotic Neha Chauhan (of Love, Sex and Dhoka fame) playing the mystery girl – a vibrant force, she almost knocks the dull vibe of the movie right out of the screen, claiming her own space in less than ten minutes.
Like Kabir, Virti as Tanu hits the right notes as the lively, belligerent, dominating elder sibling. Ready to fight Anu at the drop of a hat, she is just as anxious to see him behaving differently than his usual self and hopes he will revert to his normal, mischievous, bratty self.
Naseeruddin Shah as Nagesh pulls out familiar expressions, practiced sighs, and deliberate pauses from his bag of tricks – fully impressing us in his inimitable style, and yet, there isn’t room enough for his character to grow and spread its wings and deliver something he hasn’t in his previous outings as the old man imparting life wisdom to the young and brash. His relationship with the grandchildren is possibly the only highlight of his performance and is bound to tickle plenty of warm, nostalgic memories shared with your own grandparents.
Bashir and Kulkarni are regrettably unutilized in this project, their characters written in a flat, unremarkable style. A lack of credible performances from these gifted actors is, however, the fault of the script alone that positions them as blandly as it eventually does.
Despite the apparent glitches in the storyline and less-than-moving performances of some of the characters, the movie is worth giving a try, especially if you are in the mood to spend a sultry afternoon doing nothing. For, even in your moments of nothingness, the film is certain to make you smile wistfully and believe in the rhythm of life as it wraps up.
At the heart of Hope aur Hum lies a naïve idealism, the unexpected hand of destiny and the way it plays out in our lives. The movie is clear on what it wishes to portray – that it is not always in the grand and dramatic that you find life’s joys but sometimes in the little things that often escape your notice. Life isn’t perfect, you aren’t perfect, but as long as there’s hope and a dream for a better tomorrow, it’s as good as good can be.