Very few of our films cast children in the main role. It is a pleasure to see little Sunny Pawar who stole the show from Dev Patel in Lion, roaring again in a small film with a big heart.
In Chippa again, young Sunny Pawar is lost in Kolkata.This time the city of joy doesn’t look as irradiant as it did in Lion. The frames are palely lit and the narrative’s texture has a drab feel to it. Also, Sunny playing a street urchin named Chippa meets only kind-hearted people on the deserted night streets Kolkata.
A ten-year old boy roaming all alone in Kolkata all night? One trembles at the thought, But writer-director Safdar Rahman is an optimist. He lets his little hero loose in a Kolkata filled with football-playing, drinking, reminiscing Kolkatanas of every age.
Out little hero negotiates his way through the langorous labyrinth in search of a father who has sent him a letter in Urdu after ten years of absence.
“Tu mussalman hai kya?” a drunken potential driver asks Chippa. Wisely the boy doesn’t reply. This street survivor knows when to hold his peace, and when to speak up. When a kindly newspaper hawker takes Chippa home and tells him to go upstairs and meet his wife, the boy improvises his introduction to the lady with a sly compliment. This boy is charmer trapped in a film that doesn’t match up to his charms.
I looked for more such moments of epiphany in the picaresque plot. Sadly most of the film plays it flat. Not one of Chippa’s endless encounters with Kolkatans is specially interesting except the last when he meets his father in a union scene so bolstered by a wild coincidence it feels as like an improperly manipulated moment in a story so free of artifice that it doesn’t feel like a film at all.
Ten-year old Sunny Pawar holds the film together as though to the camera born. Playing the little boy in wonderland Pawar is wise, cocky, innocent and clever all at once. Chippa is worth our time for Pawar’s authoritative performance. The rest of the cast except Chandan Roy Sanyal who comes very late, comes and goes without creating any lasting impression.
With more meat rather than gravy in the plot Chippa could have what Mira Nair’s Salaam Mumbai was and what Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire could never be.