However, once the film continues to progress, it’s tough to miss the experiment Barjatya is conducting with what constitutes ‘family’. Uunchai is the story of four friends, Amit (Amitabh Bachchan), Javed (Boman Irani), Bhupen (Danny Denzongpa), and Om (Anupam Kher). After Bhupen’s death, the other three decide to complete a trek to the peak of Mt Everest (a notoriously treacherous climb) in an aakhri iccha (last wish) gesture.
Earlier Barjatya films often focused on nuclear families and the interdependence between each family member. This interdependence and proximity was often treated as a catalyst for the protagonists’ happily ever after (he literally has an immensely successful film titled Hum Saath-Saath Hain). This common thread is missing, or rather twisted, in Uunchai.
While the film is all about camaraderie and a fighting spirit aided by the presence of one’s closest allies, it also touches on the importance of solitude, showcasing that some battles are best fought alone.
Despite the level of danger, the location the film is set in is breathtaking and deserves an equally competent treatment. Cinematographer Manoj Kumar Khatoi paints the entire landscape on screen with enough wide angle shots to fill a tank while shifting to close ups when tensions rise. They’re both predictable moves cinematically and threaten to become exposition heavy but the line is tread carefully for the most part.
The first half of the film, when it comes to colour, is quintessential Sooraj Barjatya - there is every shade of blue, yellow, and the staple Rajshri Production hues of red. But as the second half rolls in, the palette shifts to whites and somber blues, indicating a comfortable tone-shift for the film.
Where the film suffers is in its duration. Uunchai has a strong emotional core but it lacks strength in brevity. The film’s runtime could’ve been cut down much more with the makers still retaining every message and every emotion. Some story arcs tend to stray away from the main plot, making them dreary to sit through and process.
While an emotional core is essential for a film like this, there are instances where it feels forced. This is a tale of perseverance in the face of adversity and while, yes, our older protagonists’ journey is predictably full of strife, some of it borders on trauma for trauma’s sake.
When it comes to performances, every actor on screen, including Neena Gupta and Sarika, are masters of their craft. The four friends have an indelible chemistry on-screen which makes it easier to believe their motivations. Amitabh Bachchan, once again, proves that he can go from humorous to morose in the blink of an eye.
Both Boman Irani and Anupam Kher play their parts as they’re meant to, adding their own unique touches to Barjatya’s story. A certain scene at the ghats with Bachchan and Kher is indicative of both the actors’ skill and the story’s ability to draw out the emotions it needs.
Danny Denzongpa, who made his name in Bollywood with darker and intense roles (case in point, Phir Wahi Raat and the iconic Kancha Cheena in Agneepath), is a pleasant surprise on screen with his easygoing delivery and disarming charm.
Parineeti Chopra, sharing the screen with multiple veterans, holds her own for the most part even though her character is the least fleshed-out of all. A meatier role, even with some more context into who she is, would’ve made her a more stable addition to the story.
Uunchai released in theatres on 11 November.