Nagesh Kukunoor’s latest offering Dhanak, a children’s film, may have won accolades and awards at the Berlinale Film Festival in February where it was released for the international audience but back home not many are even aware of the existence of such a film. Released alongside a controversial biggie like Udta Punjab on the one hand and a heart-warming Hollywood animation Finding Dory, Dhanak had stiff competition to make a mark.
It is the story of two children- 10-year old Pari and her 8-year old blind brother Chhotu who set off on a journey on their own in a bid to meet Shah Rukh Khan and take his help to get the money needed for the boy’s operation. Needless to say the kids are orphans and suffer ill-treatment at the hands of their aunt because of which they decide to run away from home.
The story set in the deserts of Rajasthan offers a nice glimpse of the State intact with everything from camels, ‘melas’ or fairs, dances showcasing the colourful costumes in their full glory, a foreign tourist who gives the children company for some time and even the famous song-‘Dama Dam Mast Kalandar…’ presented in a new form.
Well! On the face of it there seems nothing wrong with the story of this road trip especially as the two kids come up with brilliant performances. The problem lies in the linear story-telling. Barring a small incident towards interval, there are no twists and turns and everyone they meet is very nice and helpful.
However, in today’s scenario it is very difficult to believe that two small children who set off with just one bottle of water and a few ‘rotis’ (indian bread) actually survive in the desert for so long and meet the perfect people who are ready to help but don’t seem to be concerned about them being all alone, hitchhike their way sitting atop trucks, buses and even a car and eat anything they are offered… all this does seem a little far-fetched. Aren’t there more facets to Rajasthan than just camels and deserts!
Ironically this fairy-tale-like quality of the film becomes both its USP as well as its undoing. Though the film espouses us to be true to our convictions, stay focussed and find a way to realize our dreams in life, the path shown is unnaturally smooth and shorn of obstacles. A story needs drama and lots of thrill to hold the attention of young and old alike. After all, don’t fairy-tales also have wicked witches to deal with? Remember the fairy-tale Hansel and Gretel about a brother and a sister who get trapped in the witch’s house of chocolates and ice creams and use all their ingenuity to emerge victorious?
Coming back to the film, the childish banter between the siblings over their favourite Bollywood hero- no prizes for guessing… Salman Khan for the brother and Shah Rukh Khan for the sister … though fun to watch initially starts becoming monotonous after a while.The repartee is taken to such lengths that the two stars inadvertently get entwined in the crux of the narrative which could and should have been avoided.
Maybe the intention of the director was to show the power and reach of our top stars even in remote corners of our country and the influence they can have over little kids. But with two such talented youngsters at his disposal, the director could have come up with something more novel. The age group for which the movie is targeted may not even be aware of the 25-year old rivalry of the stars.
Points to ponder:
In spite of producing the largest number of films in the world, we have somehow never given due importance to children’s films. They are hardly given priority by any of the top filmmakers and there are only a handful of films catering to the age group of 4-14 years. We really are in dire need of intelligent and entertaining films for this section of the audience as millions of them are watching films which are not exactly targeted for their age-group.
With the rising demand for generating huge revenues in the first week itself, filmmakers are catering more than ever to the baser instincts of the audience and with so much ‘adult-content’, it is becoming increasingly difficult to view films as a family with all age-groups sitting together. Raunchy dance numbers, cuss words, violence and sex seem to be getting more and more inseparable from our box-office potboilers today. These scenes are included under some pretext or the other and are only getting more graphic and gory.
None of the big production houses want to take risks or invest in software for this vulnerable section of the audience. The whole system is becoming so commercial that the makers don’t mind investing precious time, effort and money in remakes of our old classics but not in original scripts and stories in this genre.
Delhi Safari, Chillar Party, Zokkomon, Kaccha Limboo, Satrangee Parachute, Green Chic, Stanley ka Dabba, I Am Kalam, Nanhe Jaiselmer, The Blue Umbrella, Jalpari and Gattu were some of the children’s films which saw the daylight in recent years and even won awards at festivals abroad but with little interest in promotion or publicity most of them went unnoticed in our own country.
There is also the problem that in some cases although the subject was heart-warming and performances of the child artistes were riveting the film somehow lacked the spark and excitement in the narrative which is so essential to captivate the young audience. With tough competition from Hollywood’s action and animation films, making a children’s film today requires tremendous resourcefulness.
The less said the better about our animation films. Barring the success of Hanuman, other films like Hanuman Returns, My Friend Ganesha, Bal Ganesh, Arjun –The Warrior Prince, Ghatothkach, Krishna aur Kans, etc., were all way below standard and lacked in a minimum quality of finish and grandeur expected of such mythological films.
Ajay Devgn’s ambitious Toonpur ka Superhero had a dull story-line and the characters were also weird. None in the targeted age-group would have understood that the character Gappi was based on our own music director Bappi Lahiri!!! Yash Chopra’s Road Romeo was another example of wonderful animation techniques spoilt by the stereotyped characters and clichéd storyline heavily borrowed from a staple Yash-Raj romantic film !
Our Hollywood counterparts:
Today’s youngsters have tasted the mind-boggling variety dished out by Hollywood in terms of story, characters, special effects, thrill and adventure and seem to have everything that is essential to capture the imagination and interest of the young viewers. Owing to their universal appeal, such films are the perfect stress-busters for adults also.
Home Alone, Baby’s Day Out, Dunston Checks In, Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Jurassic Park series, The Rise of The Planet of the Apes , Star Wars ,The Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Avengers, The Transformers, Mr Bean movies, Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of The Caribbean Adventures, Star Trek, Narnia, Gulliver’s Travels, 2012… their list of entertaining films is seemingly endless.
Their animation films like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Simba’s Pride, Tintin, Lion King, Puss in Boots, Kung-Fu Panda, Chicken Little, Madagascar series, Ice Age, Shrek, The Incredibles, Zootopia, Angry Birds, The Good Dinosaur, etc. remain evergreen and exceptional in terms of story, screenplay and direction.
Films like Happy Feet, Wall E, The Bee Movie and Open Season, even manage to have a message to save our environment, our animals, and their habitat. Others like Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Stuart Little, Ratatouille, Up, Inside Out, and the latest offering Finding Dory are examples of films that combine sensitive story-telling with action-packed adventure and thrilling chase sequences.
Big production houses like Walt Disney Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures and Pixar are busy throughout the year churning out new and exciting films. Budget is no constraint and production values are at times even higher than the films for adults.
Their scientific base and in-depth knowledge is astounding and computer graphics and special effects are breathtaking. Their dedicated team of researchers puts in tremendous hard work to sketch out the perfect story and screenplay and create outstanding characters with so much sincerity that it is no surprise that the results are spectacular.
The recent success of the Hollywood film Jungle Book in India, both English and the dubbed versions, is a clear indication that if the movie is well made and combines all elements of drama, action and story-telling, children’s films can give even our usual Bollywood pot-boilers a run for their money.
Is it necessary to have only children starring in children’s films?
We have had success stories when big stars were part of the ensemble cast and contributed to the narrative. Earlier films like Brahmachari, Do Kaliyan, Mastana, Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani, Haathi Mere Saathi, Chota Chetan and later ones like Mr India, Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke, Iqbal, Robot, Koi Mil Gaya, Chota Bheem and Bajrangi Bhaijan were few of the films which not only appealed to the young audience but also made good money.
But the one film which still remains a classic in this genre is the 1954 film- BOOT POLISH- made under the banner of R K Films and produced by Raj Kapoor. Till date, this touching story again of a brother and sister starring Master Ratan and Baby Naaz remains a masterpiece from every angle- story, direction, unbelievably natural acting, superb dialogues and mesmerizing music with outstanding lyrics. This Black&White gem has something so magical about it that even after six decades the film retains its brilliance and remains a landmark film which is going to be almost impossible to emulate…