‘Halkaa’ review: a laboured, unimaginative attempt

An image from ‘Halkaa’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

‘Halkaa’ meaning light is a play on the incredible airiness of being, that comes about after the significant job of sitting on the commode in the morning, preferably with a newspaper in hand.

Nila Madhab Panda’s young Pichku, however, doesn’t have it so easy and comfortable, in fact he is tortured about the morning routine because he’s unable to relieve himself in the open by the rail tracks, nor in the dirty public toilet in the slum he lives in. The film is about how the little ragpicker turns his dream of a personal toilet into reality. In other words, the film is a poor kid’s version of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.

Its lofty, socially important aim notwithstanding, Halkaa is a laboured and unimaginative attempt at supposed documentary realism. In an effort to offer a gritty, realistic picture of life on the urban margins, director Neela Madhab Panda gets overly obsessed with shit and gets irritatingly gratuitous in the potty portrayal. There is a conscious wallowing in the unseemly shanties and the grubby surroundings. As though the point he is trying to make couldn’t have hit home effectively in any other manner. The film is too shallow to whip up any sense of sympathy in the audience. Somewhere in the middle the messaging also gets all mixed up with a song that all but celebrates open defecation. It also plays out like a violation of a child’s right to privacy.

  • Director: Nila Madhab Panda
  • Cast: Young ragpicker Pichku dreams of a toilet of his own and then works towards making it a reality
  • Storyline: Ranvir Shorey, Paoli Dam, Tathastu
  • Run time: 114 minutes

If Toilet was all about pamphleteering for the government then Halkaa is no less with its nod to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and its propaganda for Parryware and the Shiv Nadar Foundation that appears to have put in the money on the project. You find yourself asking, if it’s a new CSR initiative or self-promotion post a sequence — a conducted tour of the plush school. It’s disconcerting how the film, in trying to bridge the class divide between kids actually ends up widening it what with the well-to-do Shiv Nadar students portrayed in all earnestness, taking the moral high ground in helping their poor friends. The only saving grace is a statue of Gandhi in the backdrop, an acknowledgement of the man who sounded the original clarion call for swachhata (cleanliness).

In all this there’s little concern for the underdog hero, despite the fact that Pichku (Tathastu), with his winsome smile, makes the proceedings bearable. Even as his father Ramesh (Ranvir Shorey) tries his best to be a believable rickshaw puller, mother (Shobha) Paoli Dam seems from another world, in her demeanour and body language.

After poverty porn, with Halkaa arrives potty porn.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 10:55:00 PM |

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