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WTF ASIA 30: Dhanak (2015)

Ah…kids…just want to look at everything, don’t they?

Free on Netflix. Approximately 114 minutes.

 

Ten-year-old Pari and eight-year old Chhotu live with their Aunt and Uncle in a small desert village in the state of Rajasthan. They have been living there for around four years, since their parents died in an accident. Early on during the stay, Chhotu went blind due to a disease brought on by starvation. Pari had promised her brother that he would have his eyesight back by his ninth birthday, though she had no idea how. Their Aunt is rather unpleasant in general. Their Uncle is kinder to them, but is just as likely to just sit around smoking a pipe.

Pari and Chhotu argue over which Bollywood superstar is the best. Pari loves Shah Rukh Khan while Chhotu is a Salman Khan fanboy. Of course, they are both wrong due to the correct answer being Aamir Khan, but anyways…Their morning walk to school is long enough that they have a routine where they collaborate on a story featuring one of the actors, depending on the results of a coin-toss…which Chhotu controls. Shah Rukh Khan stories tend to be romances where he is a prince or something, but the past few stories have been of Salman Khan as an inspector who fights people. And, yes, this could be because Chhotu is a young boy with a lot of anger issues, but I choose to think of this as a commentary on Salman Khan himself.

Their uncle takes them to the…not so local movie theater, where Pari notices a poster with Shah Rukh Khan promoting eye donation. Pari decides to write a letter to SRK, asking him to help her brother. In fact, she writes several, and gives them to the local postal worker. Secretly, though, the postal worker keeps the letters and gives them to the uncle and insisting that he put a stop to this fantasy.

Despite being quite smart, Pari deliberately fails assignments in order to be kept back in the same class as Chhotu…who is not the smartest kid. This…well-meaning plan was already not very prudent even before it backfires when Chhotu’s teacher visits their home and she asks that he start learning Braille. The aunt does not really care either way, but both children refuse, determined that Chhotu will see again. Upset at being criticized from all sides and resentful at the teacher’s argument about modern women, Aunt decides to take Pari out of school altogether, overriding the teacher’s objections. Chhotu is furious. Meanwhile the uncle just smokes his pipe, saying nothing.

When…uh…trying to steal money from Uncle’s trunk in order to take Chhotu to the movies again, Pari finds the letters that she had believed she had sent to SRK. As mean as Aunt may have been, this is a real betrayal.

The next day, while working in the fields, Pari sees the traveling studmuffin, Gardu, arriving to take…I’ll just say his girlfriend, somewhere on his motorcycle. He greets Pari and tells her that her hero is shooting a film in Rajasthan. SRK will be 300 km away, but in Rajasthan nonetheless. Pari asks Uncle to take them there, but he claims that it is two days away and too expensive; that he is saving the money that they make for an operation. Having learned that he has the letters that she had sent, Pari doesn’t believe him. That night, she wakes up Chhotu and they sneak out of the village, walking and hitchhiking across the state of Rajasthan.

 

I think that I may have made this movie seem heavier than it is. It is rather light-hearted and gentle, despite a few heavy parts here and there. Along with the aunt, our young protagonists meet a few…less than kind individuals. But the vast majority of people whom they meet are kind and helpful, if sometimes a little strange. They serve to display the cultural variety of Rajasthan while showing the children…and the viewer, the beautiful desert vistas of the state.

Regarding the children…Chhotu is kind of a brat. He is very demanding and never grateful for anything he is given and never sorry for any difficulties that he causes. Granted, he is blind, lost his parents, is too poor to get his sight fixed, has a seemingly uncaring aunt who would not pay for the procedure regardless. This should not happen to someone so young. Still, he bristles against these descriptors or uses them to excuse for his bad behavior depending on which argument he feels will allow him to get his way. The question, of course, is whether he can grow beyond this and actually show appreciate the sacrifices that his sister makes for him, sacrifices that she should not have to make at her age.

Pari is very much a child and her hope that SRK can help her brother is regarded within the movie as childlike. Still, her feelings of betrayal by her uncle create a bit of a hard shell of caution towards adults, on top of the sense of stranger danger that Chhotu does not seem to possess. On the trek, she has to be the more responsible one, not just because Chhotu is not necessarily the most prudent of children, but because she cannot just rely on adults to do right by her…well, except for SRK, of course. While her reluctance to trust proves justified on occasion, a part of the story is seeing whether she can open up again…I guess.

All right…so…even before the journey to meet SRK, much of the story is centered around the hopes and expectation that Chhotu will see again. Both kids angrily reject having to settle for even the possibility that he will be blind forever, and treat learning Braille as conceding defeat. Perhaps if Chhotu were rich as heck and under the care of loving parents like in the Indian movie Black, then maybe he could imagine living a long and happy life without sight. The kids here, however, seem to be rather poor and under the care of people who are neither able or willing to do much for them.  A blind Chhotu will be nothing more than a burden and Pari will feel obligated to sacrifice her own future to take care of him. They will be doomed to be among the quirky people that society has largely abandoned. The children do meet a character who is blind and fine with it. She is kind of the blind mystic character trope, though, so take that as you will.

Dang. I really cannot describe this movie without making it sound like a bleak drama. I assure you that it is lighthearted and quite family friendly. There is even a part where the kids meet an American hippie and starts rapping about world peace and it is really cringeworthy and I know that some of you are really into that sort of stuff.

Anyways, Dhanak is a pleasant film and I recommend it.

 

 

WTF ASIA 31: Tampopo (Japan:  1985, Approx. 115 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available on Google PlayiTunesVudu, and Youtube.

 

WTF ASIA 32: Ko Afno (Nepal: 2015, Approx. 115 minutes.

No Wikipedia page

Free on Amazon Prime.