BITTU Review: The Short Film To Make It To The Oscars’ Shortlist

Bittu is a short film with long legs. It could have been a full-length feature film.  But director Karishna Dev Dube  in all her wisdom, decided to keep it short. Just 16 minutes. But those  are no ordinary  16 minutes of viewing-time  for us. Ms Dube takes us  deep into the bowels  of  the bureaucratic  corruption and high-level  bungling that we accept as part of every day life.

Bittu, an 8-year old  very very angry girl is  not content being  given the ‘privilege’ of schooling and free mid-day meals, a privilege for which I am sure, she is constantly reminded by adults to be grateful.  But then every underprivileged  child can’t be a docile little lamb  bleating the right words for the government-sponsored , highly suspect, largess ladled out.

Bittu’s anger shows  up everywhere . In class when the  (otherwise  very kindly) teacher scolds  her for speaking in Hindi in the English class. Bittu has a violent fight with her best friend Chand for  laughing along  with the other kids in class. Bittu  harbours   that  indomitable  spirit which  the bureaucracy  would find highly inflammable. Her kind of  rebels grow up to get arrested nowadays.

 The film ends on an awful note of tragedy. The  coveted mid-day meal  kills all of Bittu’s friends including her bestie,sparing only Bittu. She remains. She won’t forget. She will demand  justice from a society that treats its young ones with disdain, despicable  indifference and cruelty.

I wish  the  director had avoided that long shot  of little  children’s inert figures lying on the  ground. No it’s not because it’s disturbing, but a very awkward shot in an otherwise equanimous narrative.

The two child actors Rani and Renu are  oblivious of  the camera. They have more dangerous  predators  to worry about.

There is another even thematic  undercurrent in Bittu which I found far  more disturbing than the  contaminated meal. It is the theme of  juvenile sexualization . There are repeated shots of Bittu and her best friend Chand  dancing to  lewd suggestive songs as crowds  of  men cheer. What goes on in their masculine minds  as  they watch two  8-year old girls dancing to lyrics  about what women  can make men do ?

I think  Bittu has more to worry about than killer meals. But you know what? That last shot of her anger  pacified me. She will fight  back.Let them take her away.

Would Bittu get us the Oscar? Does it really matter to  Bittu  if  it does?

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