There is a couplet in Tamil that goes something like this: "None of what you hear or see is true unless you use your intellect to enquire and experience it". I guess the director of this beauty got this idea and that idea, to quote Inception, "took hold of his brain". It's either that or Rajat Kapoor is a deeply philosophical man with a unique knack of being able to translate that onto the big screen with finesse and panache. Otherwise, it is just not possible to make such a film where it entertains and makes you think as the movie progresses.
Very rarely do you come across films where everything, right from the casting, the screenplay, the background score, the songs, the lyrics, the dialogues, the cinematography, the lighting, the editing, the production design, the staging, the shot divisions, the silence, the background noise... just every damn thing in the film works. Everything in its exact place. There is no way of knowing to see how much of the film is deliberate and how much of it serendipity. But what we can definitely know is that this is one of those rare gems that would engage, entertain and question a lot of things that we take for granted, implicitly obeyed and accepted because we are told so.
Ankhon Dekhi is a coming of age story. Just that it is the coming-of-age of a man in the fag end of his life. Until a point in his life, he is just like any other eldest man in a middle-class family. Every morning, he does his worship of the various deities (typical of the eldest in the family) and goes to work. His wife bears with the idiosyncrasies that come with the age and yet sticks to the family and puts up with him because that's what is expected of a woman. He has a brother, sister-in-law, daughter and nephews. All of them living under the same roof. Sanjay Mishra as Rajesh Bauji is phenomenal. He lives the character to the t! The non-stop advice to the family members, nagging the wife, wistfully talking to prove his point to whoever he finds appears to be paying attention to him are just some of the places where he shines.
Seema Pahwa as Amma (wife of Rajesh Bauji) is fantastic. She brings out the frustration of having to hear the non-stop jibber-jabber of the old man with the refrain, "You've gone nuts and are driving me crazy along with you!". This along with her constant groans and grumbles of the family struggles is as believable as it is loud. Rajat Kapoor as Rishi fits the role of a demure younger brother like a glove. His wife on the other hand (a fantastically underplayed with a world of layering by Taranjit Kaur) goads him to stand his ground and not suffer silently all the tantrums that his brother constantly throws in the house. The other characters in the film, the critics-turned-friends of Bauji, the daughter Rita (a brilliant Maya Sarao of Thappad film) who falls in love with someone who her mother and uncle don't approve of, the class-bunking son of Rishi, the gambler son of Bauji, the owner of the gambling house, Bauji's boss (Saurabh Shukla entertains in a brilliant cameo) all have a limited and yet solidly written presence on the screen with well-defined arcs.
With the main idea of the film being very simplistic, the character establishment becomes crucial. With that done so emphatically in the first 10 minutes of the film, all that is left to do is to convincingly convey the concept of experiential wisdom and the story of Rajesh Bauji. A trend in investigator thrillers is generally found where the knots of the plot is unravelled by way of dialogues. For instance, in the wonderful Andhaghaaram, it is done in the last 10 to 20 minutes of the film. However, all that exposition becomes too on the face and becomes a tiny bit tiring. This is a very common trap to fall into. But the dialogues in this film are so well used along with the busy background that the set-up and the pay-off come together so very well. (I wouldn't reveal much of the plot here as this film needs and deserves at least one watch from all of us.) On the contrary, it is the dialogues that drive the film. Even the dialogues of a character that is "crazy" have so much philosophical depth that at one point when he is "cured" I felt bad.
With dialogues carrying the story forward superficially, the songs that caress our ears in the background (Kailash Kher is out-of-the-world and the background score is just perfect) layer the subtext of the film so beautifully. Observe the lyrics of "Aaj Laagi Laagi Nai Dhoop" when Bauji decides to experience and then only believe the stimuli from the world. Saagar Desai is a filmmaker in his own right where he along with the super-talented Varun Grover's lyrics narrates the deeper, philosophical layer in this film.
The film that starts with a conflict seems to complete with the family coming together after a long-drawn-out struggle. But the great conclusion comes when the old couple decides to go on a honeymoon (to rekindle the second innings you'd think) to a nearby hill station. The final dialogues between the couple and the shocking ending would give the sense of completion and hanging-in-the-air (you'd get a better understanding of why I use these words when you watch this film) feeling. In fact, the ending is not very dissimilar to the one in the Alejandro G. Iñárritu directed beauty Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I would say this film is a spiritual prequel to the Iñárritu directed frenzy.