Maya (Kajol) is the perfect mother. Her life revolves around her three children, Aleya (Aanchal Munjal), Ankush (Nominath Ginsburg), and Anjali (Diya Sonecha), who think nothing less than the world of her. Despite being divorced from her husband, Aman (Arjun Rampal) Maya has ensured that everything runs smoothly in her house, under her watch, and that they continue to remain a happy family unit. However, when Aman introduces his girlfriend, Shreya (Kareena Kapoor), a career oriented woman, who has a lot to learn about children, to the family, the situation immediately takes an unexpected turn. When an incident changes their lives drastically, bringing the two women under the same roof, they find themselves putting to test an unusual situation; can two mothers make a home?
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8 Sep 2010 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 8 Sep 2010 - 12:00 AM
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Weepy Bollywood soap-opera works despite its shortcomings.
One would have thought it damn near impossible to wring anymore gross sentimentality from Chris Columbus’ Stepmom, which featured Susan Sarandon as the cancer-riddled wife and Julia Roberts as the 'other woman’ who must step up to care for Sarandon’s brood after her passing.

But first-time director Sidharth Malhotra ladles on the saccharine exponentially with every frame of his Hindi-language adaptation of the 1998 Hollywood mega-tearjerker. Western audiences will roll their eyes until their brains hurt at the lengths to which the film goes to maximise weepage. Unlike recent Bollywood releases via the Mind Blowing Films distribution outfit, which have sought to appeal to western movie-going tastes, We Are Family is aimed fairly and squarely at the domestic Indian market (which has reacted with indifference, given the film’s mid-range 142million Rupee opening over the past few days in the country’s large urban centres).

In the Sarandon role is much-loved Indian actress Kajol, whose 'Maya’ is a strong single-mother left to raise her three children after an amicable divorce from Aman (Arjun Ramal, ramping up the matinee idol charisma to stratospheric levels). Together, they share duties regarding their three children – teenager Aleya (Aachal Munjal), middle child and only son, Ankush (Nominath Ginsberg) and adorable tot Anjali (natural scene-stealer Diya Sonecha).

Aman feels the moment has arrived to introduce his children to new girlfriend Shreya (Kareena Kapoor, in the role Roberts grinned her way through), though his timing is off – his youngest child’s birthday party may not be the most appropriate place. Such wildly melodramatic plot flourishes are commonplace in these characters’ lives – food-flinging confrontations, last-minute fashion show histrionics, long soulful stares off a blustery cliffside, not to mention the quivery-lipped, wet-eyed expressions of love and grief that all the characters indulge in at a moments notice. We Are Family is a soap-opera of the highest, most shameless order and its willingness to go to the nth degree of sappiness to appease its audience becomes one of the film’s most endearing traits.

All the well-established conventions of Indian cinema are present; advocates and detractors of Bollywood culture can both go to town on this film – extended scenes of over-emoted dialogue that long overstay their welcome, the ever-present music track, lavish and entirely misconceived use of lighting and set design. And, of course, the grand dance number, which feels particularly poorly used late in the film, when a trip to a karaoke bar with the kids and a late-stage cancer sufferer becomes a rousing one-in-all-in dance number to a Hindi version of Jailhouse Rock.

But We Are Family offers much to recommend, as well. Shot in Sydney and its surrounding hinterland, it is a beautiful film to look at. Local audiences will appreciate the tourism-friendly use, albeit for no other reason than purely aesthetic, of such instantly recognisable locations as Darling Harbour, Palm Beach, the Queen Victoria Building, St. Pauls Cathedral, Macquarie’s Lighthouse on South Head and the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. (Given the very first opening credit is a big 'Thank You’ to Arts Minister Virginia Judge, we can assume the film had the fullest of government support.)

And when the dramatics are pared back to their simplest elements, the film hits the right emotional note. A lovely starlit scene between Aman and his two youngest children, in which he discusses with them what happens after you die, is a classic throat-tightener.

A subtitler with a better grasp of English would have lessened unwanted distractions (not every phrase needs two exclamation points, and its 'drawer’ not 'dror’) and a writer/director who didn’t feel the need to play every scene to an emotional crescendo would have roped in the 130 minute running time (with intermission). But We Are Family mostly works despite its shortcomings; if cultural and artistic differences dictate the manner of its storytelling, its heart is very much in the right place and that’s a borderless asset for any film.

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In Cinemas 08 September 2010,

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