Bombay Showcase

Somewhere over a sand dune

Cinema often offers a window into an alternate world where the reality is dependent on the filmmaker. And while a tale about two young siblings wandering off on an adventure across a desert might set off some red signals, director Nagesh Kukunoor believes otherwise. The director who’s known for his sensitive films that cover diverse topics, ranging from child prostitution in Lakshmi (2014), to the unjust treatment towards widows in our country in Dor (2006) is now back with a feel-good film set amidst the arid landscape of Rajasthan.

Dhanak (Rainbow) which releases later this week, follows the journey of an orphaned brother and sister duo, Chhotu (Krrish Chhabria) and Pari (Hetal Gadda), who traverse the state to fulfil a promise made by Pari to her visually-impaired little brother that she’ll help him regain his eyesight before his tenth birthday.

Being avid Bollywood-buffs, the two often visit the village cinema for screenings, where Pari relays the scenes to Chotu frame-by-frame. A chance spotting of a poster — of her favourite star Shah Rukh Khan promoting an eye-donation drive — sets the kids off on an adventure to find the hero who is rumoured to be close-by. The children encounter numerous characters on the way, who give them hope to carry on; from a wedding tempo full of drunkards that feed them with endless amount of ladoos, to a deaf and mute wanderer who give them shelter during a sandstorm, almost every individual aids the duo during their travels. “I had a great childhood, and I made this film with the rule that the world isn’t such a bad place. It’s a throwback to a time when we could trust people a little more. To a time where children trusted adults, and adults trusted children,” says Kukunoor.

The awards have been coming in even before the film has released in India. It won the Crystal Bear Grand Prix for Best Children's Film and Special Mention for the Best Feature Film by The Children's Jury for Generation Kplus at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015. “The entire selection felt like a race to the finish line because we weren’t showcasing a finished product. Since Dhanak was still a work in progress, we could only hope that the jury would recognise our vision and what the film could be,” explains Kukunoor.

The idea for the film sprang from Kukunoor’s friend who was working on an ad for a courier company about a blind boy and his sister. Eventually, the commercial never got the green signal, but the script resonated with the director.

The vision of a blind brother and sister, and their bond had made its impact. Kusnoor says, “I woke up one morning with the visual that’s now on the poster, where Pari and Chotu are walking across a dessert holding hands, and that’s when I began writing.”

The director’s enduring romance with Rajasthan began with Dor , and the state has since then has kept its hold on him. He jokes that in his previous life he must’ve been Rajasthani, explaining his attraction to its vast landscape and colourful setting. Kukunoor believes that the allure of the dessert adds to the dramatic angle of storytelling, and the graphic of two children isolated amongst a vast backdrop of undulating dunes speaks danger in itself, and brings forth a sense of intrigue.

However, the challenge of shooting in the midst of a dessert with two children came with its own perils. Kukunoor recalls “I remember a day when we had set-up a scene amongst a few ruins, and were suddenly greeted with a massive downpour.” The unpredictable weather conditions and dry heat posed a rather difficult shoot for the cast and crew who braved through numerous situations.

On one such occasion, after a long recce and finally picking the place to shoot the climax, Kukunoor was suddenly told by the owner that he had given the site to another production, leaving the crew hanging. “At the end of the day for them, it’s just another shoot, but for us it’s the missing piece in the puzzle,” he says.

Since 10-year old Krrish Chhabria plays the role of a blind child, Kukunoor urged him to visit a blind school as part of the training process. Krrish observed how the kids there spoke, walked, and interacted and absorbed it all.

What Kukunoor had to do was tighten what Krrish had already learnt. “A visit to the school was really when the penny dropped. You could say that filmmaking is a form of cheating where we show the audience only what we deem necessary, but in order to convince them about the reality of it all, it was first necessary to convince Krrish,” says Kukunoor.

Dhanak set against the bleak dessert landscape is more about the special bond between its protagonist siblings. While the director tries to work with a mix of genres, rather than typecasting himself Kukunoor, is back to tapping into the emotions of characters and establishing strong relationships much in the same vein of his films Iqbal , Rockford and Dor .

The author is a

freelance writer

I had a great childhood,

and I made this film with the rule that the world isn’t

such a bad place.

Filmmaking is a form of cheating where we show the audience only what we deem necessary

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 2:46:52 AM |

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