By Troy Ribeiro
Director Nila Madhab Panda’s “Halkaa”, which figuratively means relief, is literally a “light” film. Designed as a children’s film, the film lacks the heft of a social satire.
A pre-teen named Pichku (Tathastu) lives with his parents in a slum that is devoid of basic amenities. The common toilet is repulsive and so to relieve themselves, the inhabitants squat in the open, nearby railway tracks.
Pichku detests defecating in public and abhors going to the common loo. His friend Gopi too shares his predicament. How they devise a plan to build their own toilet, forms the crux of the film.
“This is not a toilet. It is the door to heaven,” exclaims one from the cast. And the route to heaven, in this squalor is far from comfortable. There are moments that shine; especially the bond that Pickhu shares with his mother, or the tension between him and his father or moments of bonding between friends. But these leitmotifs over a period become monotonous and boring.
Also, the role of the government, the mischievous and sly nature of the social workers and the fatalistic sense of hopelessness among the poor, are all oft seen and cliched scenes.
With a cardboard thin premise and a simple narrative that includes lessons on how to comfortably empty ones’ bowels, the formulaic and predictable plot is stretched like a rubber band, making the viewing a tedious process.
On the performance front, it is the children that levitate the spirit of the film. Tathastu as Pichku, Aryan Preet as Gopi, Anjan Rath as Aslam, Navisha Kalra as Rani and Harshit Mahawar as Bunty, are all charming and natural. They live their characters and stand out on screen.
Ranvir Shorey as Ramesh, Pichku’s strict father, despite being over-the-top and pigeon-holed in some scenes, appears to be sincere and believable. He is aptly supported by Paoli Dam as his wife Shobha. Together, their on-screen pairing appears convincing.
Kumud Mishra, in a special appearance as the roadside quack Baba, in an underwritten role is stereotyped and cartoonish.
On the technical front, the film is astutely mounted. The set design, the costumes and the cramped and filthy locales are pitch perfect. These along with the fine performances of the ace cast are skilfully captured by the cinematographer’s lens.
Overall, Shankar-Eshaan-Loy’s music and Archit D Rastogi’s edits, polish the viewing experience.