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‘Goldfish’ movie review: Deepti Naval and Kalki Koechlin shine in this timely take on dementia and damaged relationships

September 01, 2023 12:52 pm | Updated 06:21 pm IST

Writer-director Pushan Kripalani deals with a serious subject with a light touch but doesn’t allow ‘Goldfish’ to venture into shallow territory

Kalki Koechlin and Deepti Naval in ‘Goldfish’ | Photo Credit: Splendid Films/YouTube

A poignant tale that delicately decodes a mother’s struggle with dementia and her damaged relationship with her daughter, Goldfish reflects life as it is. It burns bright but always leaves some soot behind. The Pushan Kripalani film talks about this ephemerality as it brings us face to face with the pitfalls of aging where a person you love and hate gradually turns into a complete stranger. Do you resolve matters of the past, see her vegetate from a distance, or help her live with the fading memories?

Set in London, Anamika (Kalki Koechlin) faces a dilemma when she gets a distress call from her mother Sadhana (Deepti Naval). As the stages of dementia get severe, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the classical singer to get hold of the notes of her life.

There are friendly neighbours as a safety net. A neighbourhood grocer (Rajit Kapur) has developed a soft corner for Sadhana, something Anamika or Miku to her mother, finds difficult to adjust to. Then there is a nurse (Bharti Patel) who helps Sadhana deal with the situation even as she is grappling with her own family matters.

Sadhana wants to stay put but Anamika is considering to put her into a care facility and move on with her life. But things are not as straightforward as they seem. There is an unfinished business between the mother and the daughter and it is what keeps us hooked.

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At one moment, Sadhana charms with stories of her heydays, at others, she broods over how motherhood stifled her career. Anamika also carries warts in her heart that show up every now and then.

Goldfish (Hindi/English)
Director: Pushan Kripalani
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Deepti Naval, Rajit Kapur, Ravin J Ganatra, Gordon Warnecke
Runtime: 104 minutes
Storyline: Anamika returns home to deal with her mother’s dementia and the scars of her childhood

The best part is like life, the film doesn’t get into the judging business of right and wrong. It doesn’t overtly seek sympathy for any of the two characters. Nor does it try to paint any of them as a self-seeking person. In fact, while watching Goldfish, one gets increasingly unsure of the exactitudes we live with.

Without underlining it, Pushan looks at the situation from the point of view of the daughter. He starts with practical solutions -- like shifting Sadhana to a care home -- that the world offers to deal with people afflicted with the debilitating disorder but gradually make us fall in love with the in-betweenness of the situation and relationship. It is like that smoke alarm in Sadhana’s house that seems to have a life of its own

Anamika corresponds with her father from behind a dark screen and converses with her matter-of-fact boyfriend on a video call. They feel discordant or made-up in the beginning but gradually become part of the rhythm of the film -- much like the use of lovely Hindi words and phrases by Sadhana in the midst of conversational English that keeps the experience taut yet engaging. The writers (Pushan and Arghya Lahiri) deal with a serious subject with a light touch but don’t allow Goldfish to swim in the shallow territory.

Opening a window to Sadhana’s deep relationship with Hindustani classical music, composer Tapas Relia provides an evocative musical tapestry to the bond between the scarred souls. Drenched in nostalgia and classical notes, the soundtrack resonates with meditative strains of tabla and sarangi as the rich voices of Ustad Rashid Khan and Pratibha Singh Bagel sometimes provide a sense of loneliness that Sadhana is enduring in London and, at others, playfully convey the unsaid.

Also read:Friday Night Plan’ movie review: A sweet but forgettable sibling dramedy

Eventually, it is the heartfelt performances by Deepti and Kalki that make us take a deep dive into the aquarium and feel the upheaval. The actors lay bare the scarred souls of the mother and daughter. They don’t care for vanity but their inherent grace still shines through, making it impossible for the audience to take sides. It is a tough ask, particularly for Kalki, who is often saddled with damaged but half-baked characters in mainstream space. It is easy to hate Anamika but Kalki dresses her up brilliantly. Here, she gets an author-backed role with a complete arc and she makes a good fist of it. From her blank gaze to her shifting body language, she makes the complex character, grappling with her childhood memories, come alive.

Not for those who want their entertainment dose to be spoon-fed, Goldfish stirs your conscience and by the end, it will leave you calm like those two measured drops of potion that keep Sadhana going.

Goldfish is currently running in theatres

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