July issue 2016

By | Published 8 years ago

gallery_dhanak-posterNagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak has many shortcomings. It is entirely predictable, occasionally preposterous, incorrigibly treacly, and requires a willing suspension of disbelief to be watched in its entirety. Yet, the film is surprisingly engaging — and oddly endearing — thanks to the themes of courage, optimism and hope which Dhanak delivers, wrapped in rich layers of colour, music, emotion and magic.

Dhanak is the fable of two siblings, 10-year-old Pari (Hetal Gada) and the eight-year-old Chotu (Krrish Chhabria), who have lost their parents in an accident and live with their uncle and aunt amidst the picturesque sand dunes of Rajhastan. Chotu, who has lost his sight to malnutrition, is a precocious young man, extremely attached to his sister, and dependent on her in a number of ways. He firmly believes that Pari’s promise of him regaining his eyesight before his ninth birthday will come true.

During a weekly trip to see a Bollywood film in a neighbouring village, Pari sees a poster of superstar Shah Rukh Khan encouraging the donation of eyes. In the hope that the actor will help get her brother’s eyesight restored, she starts writing letters to Shahrukh Khan asking for help. Although she does not hear back, Pari does not lose faith and embarks on a trip to Jaisalmer where Khan is said to be shooting for an upcoming film. The town is 300 kilometers away but Pari is convinced that a meeting with Khan would eventually result in Chotu being able to see again. Armed with little more than courage, determination and hope, Pari and Chotu run away from home and embark on a fascinating, if improbable, journey that forms the bulk of Dhanak.

The powerful performances of Gada and Chhabria constitute the biggest strength of Dhanak. The two actors add a remarkable realism to the strong bond between the siblings with their highly nuanced and understated performances. Chhabria’s Pari is simultaneously innocent and wise; she embodies the courage, audacity and faith that keeps the road film alive. Chhabria plays Chotu like a typical kid — energetic, happy and funny — who just happens to be blind.

The performance determinedly avoids elements associated with blind people in Indian movies and relies more on intuition and spontaneity than on drama and emotion. The effortless chemistry between the two actors, and the powerful relationship they bring alive, forces viewers to care about the journey that the siblings undertake and root for its success.

Working from his own script, Kukunoor tells the story of Pari and Chotu in an effective, articulate and natural manner. Unlike movies made for children today, Dhanak has few special effects, almost no computer-generated imagery, no aliens, no anthropomorphic animals and no predatory creatures. Dhanak respects the intelligence of young viewers and refuses to break down the story to make it comprehensible to the most uninitiated of children. Dhanak tells a simple story, and tells it well — and in a manner that makes it equally appealing to children and adults.