3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Dhanak (“Rainbow“) is as charming as can be, a sweet fairy tale about a blind boy and his devoted sister. The deserts of Rajasthan provide the perfect setting for writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor’s story of faith, family, and the general goodness of mankind.
8-year-old Chotu (Krrish Chhabria) and his 10-year-old sister Pari (Hetal Gada) are orphans, living in a tiny village with their aunt and uncle. Aunty (Gulfam Khan) is a classic “wicked stepmother,” stingy and resentful of having to raise children who aren’t her own. Uncle Durgaram (Vipin Sharma) loves Pari and Chotu, but he’s a stoner who won’t stand up to his domineering wife.
Chotu and Pari are movie buffs who spin tales about their celluloid heroes: Chotu’s idol, Salman Khan, and Pari’s imaginary boyfriend, Shahrukh Khan. Outside of the town movie hall, Pari spies Shahrukh on a poster for a vision charity. The Shahrukh of her stories is noble and generous, so Pari believes he’s the man who can restore Chotu’s sight.
The village buzzes with news that Shahrukh is filming in nearby Jaisalmer (nearby being relative, since Jaisalmer is 300 kilometers away). When Uncle Durgaram won’t take them to ask Shahrukh for his help, Pari and Chotu put on their flip-flops and begin the long walk to Jaisalmer alone.
The relationship between brother and sister is adorable. Love underlies their argumentative banter, all the funnier thanks to their quick-wittedness. When Chotu leaves behind their water bottle, he scolds Pari, “How can you trust an 8-year-old? A blind 8-year-old at that?!” Pari looks heavenward and prays, “God, give me the strength not to kill my brother.”
They receive a considerable amount of help on their journey, getting lifts from friendly truck drivers and guests heading to a wedding. The kids are so guileless that most adults are eager to help, without trying to dissuade them from their mission.
Dhanak‘s rural setting — with smalls town separated by miles of sand dunes — is the perfect venue for telling the kind of story that no longer seems possible in the West. Given the omnipresence of technology that allows parents to be in constant contact with their children at all times, it’s refreshing to see a movie where the kids are the decision makers. They receive adult assistance, not interference.
That’s not to say that the world Pari and Chotu live in is perfectly safe. They encounter dangers, often from unlikely suspects. Then again, how safe were they at home, with their cruel aunt and spineless uncle? Since Dhanak is for kids as much as it is about them, the dangers Pari and Chotu face aren’t depicted in detail. The film is totally family friendly, and realistic without being scary.
Just as the kids are occasionally betrayed by figures of authority, they are encouraged to choose their allies based on more than first impressions. One of the sweetest relationships in the film is between the kids and Badrinath (Suresh Menon), a former truck driver mad with grief over the deaths of his own children. Their need allows him to regain some of what he’s lost, even for a short time.
A kindly grandmother tells Pari and Chotu that there is magic in the world, and they just have to reach out and grab it. Whether or not magic exists as an independent force in the film is debatable. Yet the kids’ journey teaches them that there is kindness and friendship to be found in the world, and that those forces are sometimes enough to make dreams come true.