Serious Men: Nawazuddin shines in engaging satire

Just when you thought you had seen all that sums up the brilliance of Nawazuddin Siddiqui, he springs a new surprise reminding there is much more to come. He does it every time. He just did it again.

In Serious Men, Sudhir Mishra casts Siddiqui as Ayyan Mani, a Dalit migrant from Tamil Nadu in Mumbai. He lives in a one-room chawl with wife and little son, and works as a personal assistant to an important man in an important organization.

Far from being one among the countless hordes that suffer silently in the dank underbelly of Maximum City, self-made Ayyan has learnt to use everything and everybody at his disposal, in a bid to woo stature and wealth — and that includes his 10-year-old boy.

It is a trait that renders a deeper shade of grey to Ayyan Mani, as imagined by script writer Bhavesh Mandalia, for Siddiqui to play out. The actor does so with relish, taking the antihero to a space rarely sampled in Hindi films. In Serious Men he is a father who would exploit his son if he has to, because his paternal instinct goads him to secure the boy’s future.

Bringing alive Siddiqui’s exciting performance, the narrative is a mix of the funny and the sad, the caustic and the sublime as a Sudhir Mishra film can be. Ayyan works as personal assistant to the top boss (Nassar) at an extremely important hub of scientific research called the National Institute of Fundamental Research. It is a position that gives Ayyan access to an altogether different world from the pigeonhole existence that he calls home. He understands he must not let his son Adi (Aakshath Das) grow into the same societal disadvantages he did.

Serious Men is based on Manu Joseph’s 2010 novel of the same name, though the screenplay (Abhijeet Khuman and Bhavesh Mandalia) is tweaked to incorporate certain changes that let the storytelling be more cinematic.

The film benefits from good acting by every cast member. Seasoned names as Nassar and Sanjay Narvekar act as perfect props, as the narrative puts across unpleasant truths with Mishra’s irreverent storytelling edge.

Serious Men regales, and it also reminds you of certain realities that never seem to change in the huge caste cauldron that is India.

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