It is of some significance that the song to which the mother and son dance in their chawl, is an Aamir Khan number.
Aamir was after all the star of Mehra’s Rang De Basanti. Mere Pyare Prem Minister has an even bigger star. Little Om Kanojia is a treasured find, a joy to behold. When the son Kannu is sulking, Mom puts on Aati kya khandala from Aamir’s Ghulam on the phone and dances leaving every care behind
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s study of slumming salvation is steeped in sincerity and warmth. I felt I was watching a braver, more rounded and gentle version Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. This is the film Mira could have made while Danny Boyle was location-hunting in Dharavi for Slumdog Millionaire.
Rakeysh Mehra’s script which he co-wrote with Manoj Mairta and Hussain Dalaal looks at little Kannu and his friends’ wretchedly deprived existence with almost no pity and tremendous empathy. The film is shot like a dream by cinematographer Pawel Dyllus. The contrasts between the slums and the skyscrapers which define Mumbai city here qualify a sense of aching nostalgia for a time when inequality was not so steep, and hence not so dangerous and threatening.
In a sequence such as the one where Kannu and his friends sit staring at the skyscrapers on the other end wondering how many toilets there must be in every building, while there are none in the entire chawl, Mehra nimbly circumvents the sinister insinuations of social inequality.
Not that the film paints too rosy a picture of slum squalor. What Mehra’s narrative has done is to transcend the wretchedness in pursuit of that glimmer of hope which defines life at the bottom-most level of the social hierarchy where the super-rich are neither myth nor meme.
Kannu’s determined struggle to travel to Delhi from Mumbai to meet the Prime Minister is mapped with such tender care and benign humour, I thought Mr Modi himself would appear as topping on the crusty cake filled with oodles of ache. It would be unfair to reveal how Kannu’s attempts to meet the PM end. It would also be unfair to reveal how the tender love story between Kannu’s free spirited mother and a kindly poetic dreamy-eyed bookstall owner (Nitish Wadhwa) ends. For the end is not a goal that the people of this film look at. Every day is treated like a survival adventure.
A big hug to all the wonderful child actors in this film who make the art of on-camera expression look so effortless. They can give some of our biggest superstars lessons on how to convey home truths without overstatement. As for Anjali Patil as Kannu’s mother, does she ever disappoint? Just watching her dance during a Holi sequence in blissful abandon to the sound of Navrang’s Ja re hat natkhat was a paisa-vasool experience for me.
I couldn’t ask for more.
This is a film with many rewards for the viewers, the biggest of them being the growing realisation that the have-nots are not going to go away as much as some of us would like them to. Garibi hatao is all very well. But what about the Garib? Rakeysh Mehra looks beyond both.And he sees hope.And he wants us to see it too.