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Serious Men by Sudhir Mishra based on Manu Joseph’s satirical take on India’s caste system through a father’s dubious dreams for his child.
Serious Men which recently released on Netflix is based on Manu Joseph’s novel of the same name. The movie directed by Sudhir Mishra stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the protagonist Ayyan Mani, and Aakshath Das as his son Adi Mani, at the centre of the narrative.
The story loosely revolves around a Dalit man Ayyan Mani who has faced caste-based discrimination all his life. A father who wants to fulfil his aspirations through his son. In his attempts to get his son a better future he commits to a fraud which shows his son as a born genius.
Serious Men makes us question – is good education enough to break caste and class barriers?
Ayyan is educated but did not have an environment that allowed him to flourish and be the person he wanted to be as a result of caste-based discrimination. This is a theme that runs through the narratives of almost every character in the story too.
Serious Men starts with a narration by Ayyan Mani where he describes how his grandfather mistakenly boarded the first-class compartment of a train and when someone told him that he had boarded the ‘Brahmin Apartment’ he suffered a heart attack due to the shock – showing how strong social conditioning can be. Ayyan calls this incident ‘nothing’ because he doesn’t consider the incident as a meaningful incident.
Ayyan is also shown to be someone who had the ‘privilege’ of education, the only person in his community. Calling himself a 2G person (belonging to the second generation), his theory is that it takes 4 generations for people from his community to be able to live a prosperous and respectful life. He is determined to change this ‘evolution process’, and commits to making life for his son better. He wants to get his son, Adi Mani, enrolled in an English convent so that the latter can one day become a boss in a big position; someone who can dictate terms.
So to get things done in his favour, Ayyan establishes a system through which he cons everyone, by showcasing his son as a child genius. The drama that follows Ayyan’s con game is what forms the crux of the story.
Children bear the brunt of their parents’ aspirations. In the movie too, Adi gets burdened with the baggage of Ayyan’s dreams of a better future for him. This affects Adi both mentally and physically, something that Ayyan neglects to address in his quest for a better life for his son.
Serious Men blends the ideas of caste and class by comparing privilege to a money-based concept. It neglects the real horrors of the caste system, and how there is often not much change in caste-based discrimination, no matter how much money a person has.
Serious Men is an example of what happens when parents get too heavily involved in their children’s choices as a result of their insecurities and begin to live vicariously through their children’s lives vicariously while tackling serious issues like caste.
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