After last week’s gleeful wallowing in miserable cynicism, how about a movie about some kids struggling to maintain that spark of hope?
It is quite an inspirational opening. Two boys present a new invention in front of the class…well, their third attempt at an invention. One of the boys, Simon, starts his speech by going on and on about how the country is filled with noise pollution. So, is this invention meant to cut down on noise pollution? Nope; its purpose is to harness sound and turn it into electricity…okay…
After about a minute of letting Simon yammer on, the teacher cuts him off and tells the boys to get to the demonstration. Simon says that the demonstration requires the class to make noise, to make the LED light on the machine turn on. So, the other students hoot and shout and clap and hit their desks and…erm…the light is not turning on. Some of the students start mocking them.
The teacher puts a stop to the presentation. He commends Simon and Prateek for trying to do something good, but scolds the two for wasting class time yet again. Next time…they should test it first. He also shuts down the jeering from the other students, saying that Simon and Prateek have imagination and effort that should be respected. And then he gets to the subject of the class which, coincidentally enough, is alternative sources of energy.
After the class is over, the kids walk down the hallway. The other kids in the class tease Simon and Prateek as they walk past; some in a friendly manner, others less friendly. Prateek is confused; Simon had said that the machine worked yesterday. Simon wonders if the old capacitor had broken down.
Pinky finds Prateek and Simon studying in the school library. She said that she liked the concept of their presentation, even if the machine didn’t work. She asks Prateek to help her with part of her homework. After he does, she offers to get them Pakauda at the canteen. Prateek is game, but Simon says that he will stay for a little longer. So, Prateek and Pinky leave. It’s fair anyways, as Simon didn’t help Pinky.
Outside, a trio of boys who had been bothering Prateek and Simon are hanging around. Two of them are teasing the third, Abhay, for having a thing for the geeky Pinky, but he claims that he can turn Pinky into…Punky…okay. Well, it looks like Pinky is more interested in that nerd Prateek, and Abhay’s friends rub it in. Eventually, Abhay calls over Prateek and…erm…asks him to get Pinky to fall in love with him. In return, Abhay offers to protect Abhay from potential college bullies. Prateek walks off. Well, that was…anyways…
Prateek and Simon go to this store called New Science House to buy some pieces for their machine. Simon also asks whether the place has piezoelectric crystals. No. Actually, this is the first time that the storeowner has heard of it. But he offers to do some research on it and tell Simon how much it would cost to bring it to the store. I am not sure how special orders work, but I imagine that it would be expensive.
Simon is in his room replacing parts of machine when Prateek comes in. He has brought his grandmother’s lamp to fix. Or just an elderly woman whom they both know. Anyways, Simon is done fixing the machine and claps his hands. Oh, hey, it lights up. Prateek claps too and it lights up again.
Great. So, now how to expand on this concept. For the machine to do more, there would need to be a greater mechanism to absorb the noise and then to keep going even if the sound stops.
It is the evening and the two boys are out on a hill looking at an airplane through a telescope-type thingamee. As neither have actually been on a plane, they can only imagine what it is like. And, oh, Prateek can see Pinky riding her scooter. He calls out to her, even though she is too far away to hear. How powerful is that thing? Simon asks if Prateek has a crush on her, but Prateek says that she is too geeky. Eh?
The boys bring the fixed lamp back to a thankful grandmother. The rice deliveryman arrives, and she asks why he is by himself. He says that prices have gotten too high to hire workers. So, he has been delivering rice when there is no electricity. She pays him and offers him some tea, but he says that he is too busy, as his son is not helping. Grandma tells the boys that 65 years have gone by and she still has not experienced adequate electricity supply. Perhaps the younger generation will fare better, but her chances are limited. She is so upset that she will not be able to watch a certain television show that she would spit in the face of the national leaders.
I guess that there is enough electricity for Prateek’s father to play games on his cell phone because that is what he is doing when Prateek goes to talk with him. They talk about Prateek’s scientific ambitions, but his father does not really have anything useful to say. Candy Crush? With that, Prateek leaves, but not before his father asks him to fix his nephew’s computer so that he can play computer games.
Prateek is fiddling around with the computer in the dark when…uh…he gets an electric shock. It seems to knock him out, but the room lights up.
Simon’s father wakes him up and comes into his bedroom. He expresses skepticism over his son’s scientific ambitions and says that he can return home instead of paying rent. He says that Simon’s stepmother would be happy to have him stay. Focusing on a slinky, Simon says no. Apparently, he has said no many times before. His father puts some cash on the night stand. Is that parental allowance or a bribe to come back home? In any case, Simon glances at it and goes back to his slinky.
Prateek is riding a bus when another passenger stands next to him. Prateek puts both hands on the handle bar and the other passenger falls back. He starts yelling that the handle has a live current and argues with one of the bus workers. But then when they check, the handle has no current. So, the passenger smiles sheepishly and shuts up. Prateek is nervous.
Prateek gets to campus and sees a friend. They clasp hands and the boy hits Prateek in the face. Prateek walks off and other kids gather around the other boy, who accuses Prateek of giving him an electric shock. Prateek makes his way to a place where he is alone. He stares at his hands. What is the matter with him?
Prateek goes to…a room with some electronic devices in it. He puts one thingamee against his left palm. Nothing. He does the same against his right palm and the light lights up. Oh shit! He does the palm test again and gets the same results. He puts his hand on that meter thing and gets a result. Then he…touches a lightbulb.
Prateek notices a boy bothering a girl by the stairway. He decides to test his electricity by grabbing onto the railing, giving the girl an electric shock from several feet away. Her friend doesn’t notice and neither does the boy, which angers her even further. An overjoyed Prateek sneaks away.
Prateek goes to see Simon and show him what happened to his hand. Except it doesn’t work, so Simon simply thinks that Prateek is exhausted. Perhaps, Simon theorizes, it was just a static charge in his body messing with his mind. And…maybe Simon is right.
Prateek and Simon are testing the machine outside of the airport when a little boy approaches them. They tell him what they are doing and he notes that his community next to the airport does not have adequate electricity supply. He introduces the guys to a community leader, who elaborates on the neighborhood’s electricity-related problems, and gives them full support to conduct experiments in this area. He claims that it is youths like them who should feel inspired to move this country forward, instead of waiting for others to solve problems.
Prateek is back in his room trying to look up information about humans conducting electricity. He finds a video about a Serbian man who supposedly has electric charges in his hands. Prateek turns to look at his light switches. Could he do something like the Serbian man?
Prateek and Pinky go to an amusement park. It is fun…until it comes time to eat…and no conversation really emerges. Prateek says that he has nothing to say. So…erm…he brings up Abhay. Pinky says that she hates Abhay…but he had been a friend since childhood, so she also loves him. She changes the subject to a surprise party she is organizing for her friend Bunker. She says that he and Simon are invited, but Prateek replies that that does not really interest either of them. She calls him boring. He promises to think about it, and she says that all he does is think.
Back on campus. Hey, here is Abhay and his pals to bother Simon and Prateek. Abhay asks about Pinky. Prateek says that she told him that she had had a crush on Abhay since childhood, but had been too shy to express her feelings. And since Abhay had not made a move, she no longer wants to see him. Abhay gets suspicious, but Prateek tells him that that is what Pinky told him. Abhay thanks him, hugs him, and offers to buy him something to eat.
Some time passes and…oh, I guess that Abhay found out that Prateek was lying and chases him across campus.
Abhay eventually catches Prateek and hold him down. Simon tries to intervene, but gets thrown to the ground. Abhay takes out a water bottle filled with alcohol and squeeze maybe half of the alcohol down Prateek’s throat. He kicks Prateek and threatens to empty the entire bottle into him next time.
Pinky takes Prateek and Simon on her scooter to grandma’s place to get Prateek some lemon water. Grandma smells the alcohol on Prateek’s breath, but Pinky insists that some dumb-asses at college forced him.
The three go up to the hill overlooking the city. Prateek, still not fully recovered, sits on the ground. Pinky asks Simon why he and Prateek are so interested in inventions and all. Simon says that the country has no light and, thus, no hope. So, he wants to bring light to the country through this machine.
Back in his room, Prateek inserts a pair of wires into an…electric…outlet? Well, whatever he does, he goes running to Simon and grabs the lightbulb. This time, it lights up. Simon is amazed and confused. How is Prateek doing that? Prateek says that there are other people like him who can conduct electricity when charged.
There is not a lot of time to explain as someone yells for help outside. They look out the window to see three men mugging a fourth. Simon says that this is an opportunity for Prateek to utilize his power. Like Spider-Man, Batman, Superman. Prateek is scared, but Simon goes to get disguises. And…um…
Well, this gets the muggers laughing so hard that Prateek is able to grab one of their hands and send him to the ground. Wait…was that the guy from the bus? The other two get distracted, letting the victim escape. Well, a heroic act…though the disguises were somewhat undermined by Prateek saying Simon’s name several times.
Is the second half of this going to be a superhero movie?
This movie is cute little family-friendly film. The school drama is kind of silly. The science stuff is probably mostly nonsensical. The superpower thing seems a little pandering. And the crime stuff seems more goofball than anything. But underneath the fluff is a genuine concern and frustration.
The Nepal in this movie is one of dire need that remains so thanks to an incompetent government. The characters here are not living in the middle of nowhere, but in a bustling city. Yet, there are frequent power shortages and regular deliberate shutdowns. This is not just inconvenient, but can have lasting consequences. How, for example, is a child supposed to study in the dark? Breakdowns in other services can lead to lack of income and the despair from this can turn some to crime.
Simon and Prateek come up with this invention that utilizes one problem –all the goddamn noise – to address another problem – the inadequate access to electricity in many parts of the country. Of course, though, it is not easy. They need to make sure that they have the proper parts. And beyond that, they need to make it applicable to real life; beyond that tiny LED light. Yet, they find themselves with no support system. Or, at least, the support systems that they have are so messed up that they might as well not even count.
Prateek turning into a “superhero” was maybe unnecessary, but it kind of works as a metaphor. He is like the sound machine and the Nepali electricity plan itself. He can dole out some electricity after a while, but then it is gone. He can use it for good or, occasionally, for bad. The point is, though, that he has a spark. But that spark is only temporary. And if he wants the spark again, then he needs the will to get it back…or he needs the means to make it last longer.
There is another metaphor with the airport. Throughout the movie, there are planes flying in and out. Who is getting on the planes? Who is getting off? Who knows? Few of the people on screen have ever even left the city. The airplane, a marvel of an invention, is not meant for them. They, who may have never experienced a full day of electricity, can see and hear these huge feats of foreign technology transport strangers whom they will never meet to places that they can never go to.
Perhaps, the lucky ones will get on one of those planes and escape to a place where their dreams can be realized. That seems to be the path of least resistance offered to Simon and Prateek. Given how much trouble it is to get even some of those…erm…crystal things, one could imagine that trying to expand on their project would be unfathomably difficult. They might as well move elsewhere, like the United States, work on their project there and, if they so wish, sell it to Nepal for a ridiculously high price. But that is not what they want to do. They want to invent something that will help Nepal, not to simply get rich off of exploiting Nepal. Yet, while they find support among people who could benefit from what they are trying to do, will they find support among people who can actually help them?
Of course, on top of that, these characters are just kids. I am not…entirely sure exactly how old they are supposed to be, but let’s say late teens. They have family issues, issues with friends, school, relationships. No, none of these things are explored particularly deeply. But they kind of provide flavor to the overall theme of the story. These youths, as flawed and whatever as they may be, are the future of the country. Early on, several adult characters tell Simon and Prateek that they must be their own hope; not simply hope that others will do the things for them. Later on, this is shown to be justified.
“Grandma” certainly has pinned her hope on the youth. She may doubt that she will live to see the results of their success, but she expresses a desire for them to succeed. The youth must struggle to not just do what they feel that they should do, but also to fight against the resigned cynicism that has afflicted the national psyche. They need hope. They need to fight for hope. And if that means somehow becoming a human conductor of electricity, then so be it.
So, yeah. I like this one.
WTF ASIA 209: Uzumasa Limelight (Japan: 2014, approx. 104 minutes)
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WTF ASIA 210: Saving Mr Wu (China: 2015, approx. 106 minutes)