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'Brahmin Bulls': LAAPFF Review

Brahmin Bulls Film Still - H 2014
LAAPFF

The Bottom Line

Striking an ideal balance between humor and sentiment remains challenging for this understated family dramedy. 

Venue

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (also in Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles)

Cast

Sendhil Ramamurthy, Roshan Seth, Mary Steenburgen, Michael Lerner, Cassidy Freeman, Justin Bartha, Monica Raymund

Director

Mahesh Pailoor

Mahesh Pailoor's debut feature co-stars Roshan Seth and Sendhil Ramamurthy as estranged father and son facing the prospect of reconciliation.

Instead of presenting familiar themes of cultural assimilation and intergenerational conflict within Indian-American families, filmmaker Mahesh Pailoor substitutes a polarized father-son relationship that turns essentially on issues of loyalty and betrayal in Brahmin Bulls, an accomplished first feature that doesn't quite achieve its initial promise. A planned theatrical release later this year could potentially stir interest among niche audiences, although digital formats may draw more interest.

Thirtyish Los Angeles architect Sid Sharma (Sendhil Ramamurthy) faces unwelcome challenges on multiple fronts. His attorney wife, Ellie (Cassidy Freeman), has decided to move out in a trial separation arrangement while she considers a divorce. His position at a trendy firm has become increasingly perilous due to his arrogant behavior and inability to deliver designs that clients favor. And the home remodeling project that represents his primary creative outlet is barely on the drawing board, even after years of tinkering.

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So when his estranged father Ashok (Roshan Seth), a widowed engineering professor at a tweedy Boston university, arrives in town for a professional conference, showing up unannounced at Sid's door despite their minimal contact over the past five years, the timing could hardly have been worse. Under the pretense of mending fences with Sid subsequent to the emotional fallout following his wife's death several years previous, Ashok settles into his son's place for a week's visit and isn't shy about leveling criticism regarding Sid's chosen lifestyle, which involves frequent self-indulgent moping and solo pot-smoking.

Their shared love of tennis primarily serves to demonstrate their still simmering rivalry, but it's Ashok's revelation that his motivation for traveling to LA isn't so much a visit with his son as it is an attempt to rekindle romance with a former flame that sets Sid on edge. Although she's married now, Helen (Mary Steenburgen) still has feelings for Ashok, who also seems eager to reconnect. When Sid discovers their prior history however, events from his father's past threaten to derail their nascent reconciliation.  

Pailoor and co-writer Anu Pradhan's family dramedy also doubles as a coming-of-age metaphor. Even if Sid and his father are well past adolescence, both still have some growing up to do in order to come to terms with one another and their own shortcomings. Pailoor and Pradhan convey this situation with gentle humor and a minimum of melodrama, amply demonstrating that age is no assurance of maturity.

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British film and TV veteran Seth manages to switch smoothly between withering disapproval and maintaining a defensibly constructive concern for his son's welfare. When emotions intensify and certainty falters, Seth is on shakier ground, however, as if he can only really deliver when his character is the more dominant.

The restraint of Ramamurthy's performance, dictated primarily by the script, is the source of some low-key humor, but doesn't muster sufficient friction for a satisfying conclusion, since linking the resolution of Sid's various personal issues to a potential reconciliation with his father tends to oversimplify both the characters and the situations they're confronting. Fortunately, the film's economical style and Pailoor's functional directorial choices best serve the narrative and characters without resorting to unnecessary embellishments.

Production company: Philote Factory
Cast: Sendhil Ramamurthy, Roshan Seth, Mary Steenburgen, Michael Lerner, Cassidy Freeman, Justin Bartha, Monica Raymund
Director: Mahesh Pailoor
Screenwriters: Anu Pradhan, Mahesh Pailoor
Producer: Yoshinobu Tsuji
Executive Producers: Shannon Akegarasu, Cary Lin, Sendhil Ramamurthy
Director of photography: Ben Kutchins
Production designer: Maya Sigel
Music: Gingger Shankar
Editor: Cary Lin
No rating, 96 minutes