Hawaa Hawaai is the story of a band of boys who dare to dream

Arjun Harishchandra Waghmare’s move to Mumbai from the impoverished Yavatmal district in Maharashtra had all the ingredients to make for a traumatic experience. But the 12-year-old managed to skate his way in the metropolis and do much more than survive.

Director Amole Gupte’s upcoming film could have well been a story about David conquering Goliath. Or, in a bleaker world, about Sisyphus trying to push a boulder up a hill without succeeding. But Hawaa Hawaai goes beyond grit and determination to emerge as a story of a young band of boys who dare to dream.

The eponymous protagonists of the film are a pair of rickety roller skates. Aiding them to take flight are five pre-teens: each representing different layers of Mumbai’s underbelly. Hawaa Hawaai is as much a film about skating, friendship and dreaming; as it is about the unending crisis unfolding in rural India. It is a film about children but you don’t need to be a child to appreciate it.

Mr Gupte who has been working with children, shot to fame with Taare Zameen Par and Stanley Ka Dabba. His latest film started taking shape in Mr Gupte’s head about 10 years back when he would accompany his son, Partho, for skating lessons. He is now the central character in Hawaa Hawaai.

Partho who also acted in Stanley Ka Dabba said Hawaa Hawaai was a challenging film. In that, he was playing a character whose life was very different from his own. “I had to understand what it meant to be a poor child in India.” Deepa Bhatia, his mother and editor of the film took Partho – who was 11 at the time-- to stay with poet-farmer Shrikrishna Kalamb’s family in Akola. Hawaa Hawaai is dedicated to the debt-ridden farmer who hanged himself to death in March 2008.

“In Mumbai, I played games on the computer or on the tablet. There, I learned to play marbles and lattu with other children. I used to wake up early to fill water,” said Partho (now 13). Mr Gupte started filming the day after the Vidarbha tour ended.

The other four child actors playing streetchildren come from different slums in Mumbai. In the film, when the window of a car goes down and Bhuraa’s face appears as he sells gajras, you feel you have seen this face at many signals in the city.

Each of the boys is endearing as he goes about carrying on with his life-- assisting a mechanic in a garage or working in a jari business or ragpicking from garbage mounds. As Lucky, the skating instructor says: “Such little children. Such big hearts.”

Mr Gupte has known the children for more than six years, as they have been students of his cinema and theatre classes. “I believe cinema has the power to empower them. I don’t audition. They don’t mug dialogues. They imbibe the character,” he said.

And imbibing is how Tirupati Kushnapalli (11) played his part. “I started paying attention to children carrying garbage. I used to feel bad. I would invoke this feeling while acting,” he said.

The film, agree all the actors, has become a life-changer. “I realised I have much to be happy about. I have a family. I have a home,” says Salman Khan (14). Salman’s home in Mumbai is on a construction site where his father works as a labourer.