Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
Pari (Hetal Gada) and her blind 8-year-old brother Chottu (Krrish Chhabria) embark upon a solo journey across the vast landscapes of Rajasthan to meet superstar Shah Rukh Khan on a film set and seek help for his eye surgery. This is a “road movie” about their trials, joys and the several colourful faces they meet on their seemingly impossible trip.
Dhanak (rainbow) is the kind of film that, despite all its delicious savoury local food it showcases at the kids’ decisive junctures, offers one sweet dish after another till you scream out loud from sugar submission. Kukunoor, who excels at heartwarming young underdog tales (Iqbal, Dor, Hyderabad Blues), is a filmmaker out to avenge his own previous soul-sucking film Lakshmi, by literally eliminating distrust and murkiness from human nature.
Chottu, a Salman Khan fan, has a smart mouth, and overcompensates for his sister’s older-sibling paranoia; their chemistry is cute and almost adult-like, but in a typically fairytale-ish way. Chottu speaks as if he is reciting pre-learned lines, which feels quite authentic, given the actor he loves so much. He has a sparkle in his eyes, though, that doesn’t allow you to begrudge his annoyingly positive spirit despite walking through a desert in 50 degrees without any vision. The last film he watched before losing vision was ‘Dabbang’, a tragic condition that is hinted at by his jobless Chacha and “evil” Chachi, who adopted the two when their parents died. The Chachi is evil, only because she doesn’t smile much, and seems to have been responsible for his blindness, and isn’t progressive enough to recognise a modern woman’s role in society. What can you expect, though, from a lady who has had to give up her own dreams and live hand-to-mouth to bring up kids that aren’t hers? She isn’t evil in a conventional way, just naturally bitter.
The only other distasteful face comes midway through the film in the form of a shady-looking city slicker chap looking to kidnap and sell the kids. But for this outbreak of reality, Dhanak simmers in its own bright world of goodness and generosity. Each character they meet along the way seem to be straight out of the pages of a children’s book — a kindly truck driver, pretty femme-fatale gypsy, deranged but good-hearted local, a drunken folk singer and his marriage party, his chubby little enthu-cutlet son, blind fortune teller and a self-anointed ‘Sheera Mata’ — all appearing as milestones to push the kids closer to an innocent dream. These grown-ups are virtually giant reflections of the kids, looking to see a bit of their own lost childhoods in Pari and Chottu’s happy sweat.
The film loses its coherence towards the end, all in a blinding pursuit of a happy ending at any cost. This leaves us to wonder if Kukunoor is in complete denial about the grey in life, or if he’s just a secret magician who wants to sprinkle a generous dose of fairy dust onto his protagonists’ — and our — lives. As you walk out of the hall, you feel sad that there is actually no such universe today, and happy that at least someone believes and wills there to be one, if only on the silver screen. You also feel hungry, like a tourist looking for earthy exoticism in Rajasthan’s dunes — not the worst thing if you’re caught up in the intricacies and crushing authenticity of the times we occupy. It’s no wonder, then, that this won the Crystal Bear Grand Prix prize from the Children’s jury for best film at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival; what kid, irrespective of nationality, wants to be told that dreaming is impossible?
Worth a watch, for cinematic therapy, especially if you plan to watch the dark and devastating ‘Udta Punjab’ over the weekend.