Serious Men, a novel by Manu Joseph which was published in 2010, is a satirical take on contemporary India. The film, directed by Sudhir Mishra is an adaptation of this same book which tells the complicated tale of ambition of the character, Ayyan Mani.
Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his family consisting of Oja (Indira Tiwari) and son Adi (Aakshath Das), live in a small room in a Mumbai chawl. He is an ambitious father desperate to move upward on the social ladder. Being the PA to a renowned Brahmin astrophysicist Aravind Acharya (Nassar), he is constantly humiliated by his boss at every given opportunity.
Thus, the upper caste people who look down upon common folks like Ayyan, is termed by him as ‘serious men’. Yearning to become like one of those ‘serious men’, he cons the world into believing that his son is a ‘genius.’
Ayyan is a fascinating and complicated character who has been at the receiving end of perennial systematic oppression. Yet, it’s hard for the viewers to feel sympathetic towards the character because of its wicked nature. However, the character is much more than just a prototypical father that puts the burden of his unfulfilled dreams upon his young son’s shoulder.
Throughout the film, Ayyan mocks the privileges of the rich and upper caste and class with his sarcastic narration; while secretly longing for the same. He is of the worldview that it takes four generations to be able to live a comfortable life without doing anything and that he is the second generation (2G). What comes, is the unfurling of the series of events marked by dark comedy where he is seen attempting to fool the system and its beneficiaries.
The film’s storytelling is completely engrossing and is a contrast of both bold and soft storytelling at the core. As the story unravels it gives a similar thrill like that of Bong Joon-ho’s movie Parasite, as all the characters in the film are exploiting one another for some selfish motive. For instance, on one hand, the Bahujan leader’s daughter uses Adi as a face for their party making him hold signs that read 100 percent Shuddh Dalit to win people’s trust. On the contrary, in another instance, she is seen dismissing with arrogance- “next time no ‘Dalit woman victim card’ s*** for me”.
The film is full of metaphorical symbolism that criticizes the system. To start with, Ayyan the narrator is seen standing infront of a board that says, ‘Reservation cannot be the only compensation for treating fellow human beings like animals for the last 3000 years’. Immediately after that, the narrator talks about his boss who has been searching for ‘alien life’ for the last ten years.
In just about two hours, Serious Men places before its viewers many problematic issues of the Indian society. While it talks of Ayyan’s ambition at the centre, it also mocks class, caste, Indian education system, politicians and parental pressure. The principal of Mani’s school which persuades the family to convert to Christianity to avail Adi’s scholarship- the past of the Bahujan leader’s daughter where she was subjected to domestic violence- the chawl where thousands of people were crammed in small rooms- the education system that stresses on rot learning- the suicide attempts by the youth- the placement of B. R. Ambedkar’s photograph at several scenes- all of these instances have been cleverly put in the story to speaks volumes of the melting pot that India is.
To sum it up, Serious Men is one of a kind movie; one that is not quite common in the industry that believes only in glitz and glamour. It aptly portrays the distorted Indian society in which we live in. One should definitely watch it to get a bite of the reality along with the taste of its subtle satire with excellent performances of the entire cast.