Review: Brahmin Bulls (Pailoor, 2013) – CAAMFest San Jose 2014

Still from the movie Brahmin Bulls

Brahmin Bulls is the first feature-length film for writer-director Mahesh Pailoor, graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The film boasts a cast that includes Sendhil Ramamurthy, who first teamed up with Pailoor in his 2001 short Little India and who has since appeared in a few small movies and numerous TV shows (maybe you’d recognize him from Heroes or Beauty and the Beast), the prolific Indian/British actor Roshan Seth, Academy Award winner Mary Steenburgen, and Academy Award nominee Michael Lerner.

Pailoor’s family drama takes place during engineering professor Ashok Sharma’s (Seth) week-long visit with his estranged son Sid (Ramamurthy). The unexpected trip comes at a difficult time in Sid’s life as he undergoes a separation with his wife of three years (Cassidy Sherman), a separation which Sid attempts to hide from his father. Ashok, meanwhile, has a secret of his own: he has come to see his former TA and old lover Helen (Steenburgen).

The film undoubtedly bears a few marks of the amateur: lines that feel delivered rather than experienced; awkward, insincere interactions between some of the characters; personalities and scenarios that strike me as a bit contrived; resolutions that seem too easy. Still, the movie’s central relationship–that between Ashok and Sid–for the most part rings true, particularly the strain. Neither father nor son are especially difficult people, and yet their scenes together are full of a bristling tension that at first can only resolve in sarcastic outbursts or huffy departures. That Sid acts the petulant child is not surprising, given the well-known phenomenon of adult children reverting to their childhood roles in family interactions; neither am I surprised to see the strict gruffness in Ashok, the immigrant father. What is a bit disappointing is how quickly and easily the bad feeling dissipates so that, by the end of the visit, relations between the two (and, really, between everyone) are insufferably saccharine.

It is popular nowadays to have dramas of a certain type feature lost adults in their late 20s to early 30s. It’s the new period of angst and disillusionment as promising marriages give way to the first divorces, careers appear more difficult or emptier than we had imagined. Brahmin Bulls follows in this tradition but also adds its own flavor. After all, emigrating halfway around the world, growing up with immigrant parents–these are experiences that are exasperatingly familiar to some of us but are nonetheless rarely depicted in the media we view. The inclusion of this perspective is what makes Brahmin Bulls so engaging to watch: to see the clash of generations and cultures, the insurmountable gulf between two people in two different worlds, played out so realistically and compassionately. Fully realizing this potential would have made Bulls a better movie, but, you know, I’ll take what I can get.

Brahmin Bulls will be showing at the San Jose CAAMFest on Sunday, September 7, at 2:30 pm. Watch it and catch director Mahesh Pailoor at the Q&A! Tickets are $12 general admission, $11 students/seniors, and $10 for members.