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?