Tag Archives: Irfan Khan

Movie Review: Haraamkhor (2015)

Haraamkhor3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Haraamkhor (international title: The Wretched) is a captivating examination of adolescents and their understanding of sexuality and romantic relationships. The stakes are high for the kids in the film as they takes their uneasy steps toward adulthood.

The action in Haraamkhor centers around Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi), a 15-year-old schoolgirl. Her mother abandoned her years ago, and her police constable father is a secretive drunk. She’s new to the small town in Gujarat where she lives, and she has no friends.

She does have an admirer, however. Kamal (Irfan Khan of Chillar Party) is a skinny boy a few years Sandhya’s junior, and he is determined to marry her. Unfortunately, Kamal breaks both of his arms at the start of the film, forcing him to rely heavily on his best friend, Mintu (Modh Samad), for assistance in his romantic pursuits.

Mintu is the main source of dubious information about sex for all of the prepubescent boys in town. According to Mintu, a boy and a girl have to get married if they see each other naked. He helps Kamal spy on Sandhya in the shower before developing several botched plans to trick Sandhya into seeing Kamal naked. The best of his ridiculous plans involves Mintu acting as a miniature Hugh Hefner, photographing underwear-clad Kamal in what passes for a seductive pose to a pre-teen boy.

Sandhya’s other admirer isn’t so innocent. She’s smitten with her teacher, Shyam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and the older man is happy to draw her into a sexual relationship. This isn’t his first time. His wife, Sunita (Trimala Adhikari), is herself a former student.

Kamal and Mintu are convinced that Sandhya and Shyam are having an affair, but the boys don’t completely understand what that means or consequences it could have. Shyam certainly does, but he’s brazen enough to ride around the small town with Sandhya. She wraps her head in a scarf as a disguise, as if people won’t recognize her bright red backpack and school uniform.

Writer-director Shlok Sharma is forgiving of Kamal’s and Sandhya’s naiveté. Kamal is very much still a kid, and Sandhya lacks good adult role models to guide her through puberty. She’s been disappointed by adults before — but not outright deceived, as she is by Shyam.

Sandhya eventually finds that role model in Neelu (Shreya Shah), the girlfriend her father has kept secret for years. Neelu knows exactly what Sandhya is going through and guides the girl without pushing her. The tender development of their relationship is one of the highlights of the film.

Every performance in the film is excellent. Shah is patient, Adhikari annoyed. Khan and Samad are boyhood at its most endearing. Tripathi is superb, playing a character half her age with great sympathy.

Siddiqui makes a villainous character seem downright ordinary, as though Shyam could be any guy in any town. He’s a violent predator, but thanks to Siddiqui, we see how Shyam is able to maintain his good standing in town for as long as he does.

The integration of Haraamkhor‘s two main storylines isn’t always successful. A scene of Shyam trying to molest Sandhya is immediately followed by Kamal and Neelu sneaking around Sandhya’s house, accompanied by dodo music. It’s hard to flip the emotional switch as quickly as Sharma demands.

But that’s the point of Haraamkhor, I guess. Kids don’t always get to grow up at the pace they are ready for.

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Movie Review: Siddharth (2013)

Siddharth4 Stars (out of 4)

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Practicalities are often omitted from movies in order to save time. Characters never end a phone call with, “Good-bye.” A character jumps in a car and says, “Just drive,” and the driver does it without demanding to know where they are going.

Siddharth isn’t like that. It takes a familiar setup — a child goes missing, and the parents have to find him — and delves into how it would really play out for a family of limited means. Writer-director Richie Mehta paints a gripping and emotional picture by avoiding movie conveniences and emphasizing the details.

The title’s Siddharth (Irfan Khan) is a 12-year-old boy, son of Suman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) and Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang), a Delhi zipper repairman. The family is so desperate for money that Siddharth leaves school to work in a factory for a month, hopeful that his earnings will start a dowry fund for his little sister, Pinky (Khushi Mathur).

When Siddharth doesn’t return for Diwali as planned, Mahendra and Suman struggle to discover what happened to their son.

Wealthy movie dads like Mel Gibson’s character in Ransom or Liam Neeson’s in Taken can stop everything in order to search for their kids, but Mahendra doesn’t have that luxury. Bus tickets cost money that he doesn’t have, and that his friends and neighbors don’t have. While he’s searching for his son, who’s earning money to feed his wife and daughter?

That’s the difference between Siddharth and other missing child movies: the villain isn’t a person. The villain is poverty. If Mahendra had money, he could hire investigators and bribe informants and flit from place to place on a moment’s notice to look for Siddharth. If Mahendra had money, Siddharth wouldn’t have had to go to work in the first place.

Without a villain, the tension in Siddharth doesn’t feel acute. There’s no ticking clock. Yet there’s a growing sense of frustration that builds as the movie progresses. Mahendra and Suman calculate how many weeks it will take them to save the money for bus fare. The policewoman explains how hard it is to find a missing kid in a nation of a billion people without so much as a photograph of the boy. Mahendra asks every client if they’ve heard of a place call Dongri, his only lead to Siddharth’s whereabouts.

It’s a powerful illustration of how hard it is to live in poverty, particularly in a time of crisis. There’s no margin for error. Siddharth leaves because his family is broke, and it ends up costing them more than he would have made.

Mehta makes the audience’s frustration personal by introducing Siddharth with only a couple of seconds of screentime at the very start of the film. We don’t get a good enough look at him to join Mahendra in his search. Scanning crowd scenes is worthless, because every boy could be Siddharth.

Another fascinating thread within Siddharth is the impact education has on whole families. Pinky is more educated than either of her parents, and she’s only about six years old. She writes a letter for her illiterate mother, and she’s the only one in the house who can operate their cell phone. Upon learning that the phone has a camera, Mahendra asks Pinky how to use it so that he can take a photo of her, lest she go missing, too.

Siddharth reminded me of a terrific novel on a totally unrelated subject: The Martian by Andy Weir. Weir’s book presents in minute detail what life would be like for an astronaut left behind on Mars with virtually no resources. There are no aliens or space vampires in the book, just an endless series of ordinary events that could be fatal if one thing goes wrong. It’s fascinating.

Mehta’s film is no less fascinating. It allows the audience to come as close as they can to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and illustrates the frustrating, devastating consequences of poverty. Siddharth is a triumph of storytelling.

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Movie Review: Chillar Party (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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There are two contradictory messages at work in the family movie Chillar Party. The explicit message directed at kids is that friendship, loyalty and compassion are values worth fighting for. The implicit message conveyed by the grown-up characters is that those values are meaningless in adulthood.

The movie focuses on a group of eight elementary school boys who call themselves Chillar Party. A homeless orphan named Fatka (Irfan Khan) takes up residence in an abandoned car on the grounds of their apartment complex, where he makes money washing the cars of the middle-class apartment-dwellers. Chillar Party sets about terrorizing Fatka, fearing that his canine best friend, Buddy, will defecate on their cricket pitch.

The cruel acts culminate in the boys locking Buddy in a car with the windows rolled up, reducing Fatka to panicky tears. It’s such a tense scene that it’s hard to watch. The boys realize they’ve gone to far and let Fatka and Buddy join Chillar Party.

Their friendship is put to the test when Buddy defends Fatka against rough treatment at the hands of a politician’s aide. This prompts the politician to call for a city-wide eradication of stray dogs, starting with Buddy. Chillar Party bands together to fight for Buddy’s life on behalf of Fatka.

Through a narrow lens, Chillar Party is a pretty good movie for kids. The young actors are competent, and all are cute (as is Buddy the dog). There are some laugh-out-loud funny moments when the kids spout dialog wiser than their years, and the moral themes of self-sufficiency and loyalty are well-presented.

However, the cast is too big to allow any of the kids to develop distinct personalities beyond their nicknames. Throw in the kids’ parents and other apartment residents, and there are a few dozen characters to keep track of. On top of that, the film has a runtime of 135 minutes, way longer than the youthful target audience can be expected to pay attention.

But Chillar Party‘s biggest problem concerns the behavior of the adults in the apartment complex. First is their troubling acceptance of child labor, a practice which the politician eventually points out is illegal. No one bats an eye when the president of the apartment board hires a kid who’s at most ten years old to wash their cars. For the sake of the plot, I’ll let it slide.

Yet none of the parents is willing to make even the slightest compassionate gesture toward Fatka, beyond paying him for services rendered. All of the families have enough money to afford cars and remote-controlled toys for their own kids, yet none of the mothers ever sends her child out with a plate of leftovers for Fatka. No father offers to let the boy sleep on the couch when rain pours into the car he calls home through windows that won’t close.

In fact, when one family notices Fatka shivering feverishly, the father’s response is to turn his own son’s face from Fatka’s suffering and usher the family into their apartment. Fatka spends the night in the car, hungry, sick and alone.

By this point in Chillar Party, Fatka is a friend to all of the boys in the apartment complex. The kids make an effort to help him in the best ways they can think of, given their nascent senses of morality. The fact that the parents are willing to risk the potential, preventable death of their children’s friend — just because he’s not their own kid and, therefore, not their problem — is appalling.

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