Bombay Showcase

Dhanak: Children of heaven

Reel feel:The on-screen relationship of the two child actors, Hetal Gada (left) andKrrish Chhabria, brings alive the rare bond only siblings can share and know of.  

The early performances of actors are enough to gauge the long-distance runner in them. Hetal Gada quite clearly has the acting chromosome embedded rather well in her DNA.

As the young Pari, who is intent on getting her visually-impaired brother Chhotu’s vision restored by his ninth birthday, Hetal, is quite a sight.

The way she lets a fleeting expression run across her face, the way she lets an emotion sit on her eyes, the way she calibrates feelings, neither excessive nor too low key.

With her is the delightful Krrish Chhabria as Chhotu. It would be no exaggeration to say that his portrayal of visual impairment is perhaps the most real since Sai Parajape’s Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri starrer Sparsh . And delightful at that. Their on-screen relationship and give and take brings alive the rare bond only siblings can share and know of.

Well-fleshed out

Much of why the film warms the cockles of the most cynical hearts is the way Kukunoor fleshes out these characters. Be it the anger, wit and intrinsic sense of fun in Chhotu or the sincerity and gravitas beyond her years in Pari, Kukunoor manages to extract great work out of the two without any touch of artificiality, effort or righteousness. No wonder their little joys-in-deprivation reach out.

My nitpicking lies with the otherwise dull story and its slack telling. The film doesn’t feel as organic and unaffected as the two and would have been unable to soar if it was saddled with lesser actors in the lead.

The story arc reminded me a lot of Santosh Sivan’s lovely children’s film, Halo (1996), where a little girl traverses the city in search of her lost puppy. Dhanak is also a journey along the same lines, only it’s a road trip through the desert in search of vision. Halo ’s world was that of an unadulterated fantasy, peopled with whimsical characters the little girl encounters on the way. It worked at the level of an enchanting fable.

Kukunoor tries to remain rooted in reality, yet turns the film into an odd fairytale. One that makes even a Cinderella seem too dark. The bad aunt turns good, just like that.

Everyone is nice and good, no problems befall the kids even though they are on their own amongst strangers. Any trouble eventually gets sorted out with the aid of angels in human form and everything falls into place way too conveniently. The characters the children encounter, the stops they make on the way — whether it’s at a wedding or a godwoman’s camp — are just not as engaging as their own banter or fights.

In all its beauty

Most of all, the Rajasthan we see feels like a leaf out of the tourist brochures: bright colours, ghevar , ker sangri and people singing and dancing at the drop of the hat to familiar folk songs. Scenes that could be straight out of any of the regular touristy experiences.

Good children’s films or those with children at the centre are often as unknowingly profound for adults as they are obviously engaging for kids. Here, one stayed invested and smiled along only because of the adorable actors with Bollywood references adding to the cute appeal. But it needed a lot else.

Dhanak (Hindi)

Director: Nagesh Kukunoor

Starring: Hetal Gada, Krrish Chhabria, Vipin Sharma, Vijay Maurya

Runtime: 106 mins

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 9:48:26 PM |

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