Nila Madhab Panda has always been a filmmaker who connects deeply with the people who live outside the jurisdiction of the aadhaar card. The faceless nameless but brave and undefeated section returns in his latest work Halka, the story of a little boy from the slums who refuses to defecate in the open even if it means holding it all in until his stomach bursts.
The brilliantly pieced-together trailer has the excellent Ranveer Shorey as an impoverished rickshaw puller trying to cope with a rebellious child’s demands for a luxury way beyond his means. We are talking about an in-house toilet.
Shorey plies the manual rickshaw as convincingly as Om Puri in the very artificial The City Of Joy.
Nilab’s world is about people whom we don’t notice until they are put on an award-winning film. Satyajit ray’s PatherPanchali and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire are two noteworthy films that showed us slum-kids having fun with (though not IN) their poverty and squalid existence. The inbuilt danger in such cinema’s efficacy is that they end of romanticizing poverty. Ray’s classic Pather Panchali was famously accused of peddling poverty to the West by Nargis Dutt.
As for Slumdog Millionaire the less said the better about its patronizing tone toward the Great Indian Poverty (not to be confused with the Great Indian Rope Trick).
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In Halka, director Panda seems to have effortlessly evaded the pitfalls of glorifying penury. It is quite simple. If as an artist you see the people on the wrong side of the poverty line as individuals and not as a blotchy blur of wretchedness, you have got the problem the right side up.
The trailer shot in an affectionate but unvarnished tone introduces us to the little dreamer from the slums. He is Pichku and he won’t do his business on the railway track. Sharp tongued and resolute Pichku takes on his father’s wrath and the bureaucratic mess headlong. But he will have that elusive toilet bowl to enjoy in privacy, come what may.
Panda has always been an amazing discoverer of child actors, be it the two boy protagonists in his most celebrated work I Am Kalam or the little girl in Jalpari. In Halka Panda brings us little Tathastu who is a fearless natural before the camera. As natural as Sunny Pawar in the overrated Lion. So impressed is Aamir Khan by Tathastu in the trailer of Halka that the Superstar has sent the Little Boy a note congratulating him on his performance.
Panda hopes all the adulation won’t go to little Thathastu’s head. Even if it does, we can forgive him. The trailer shows him to be a natural-born scenestealer and a far superior actor than some of the superstars of Bollywood.
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I can’t wait to se Halka. It seems to address the problem of open-air defecation far more honestly that Toilet Ek Prem Katha. The minute you bring a big star in to sell an idea it begins to seem like a set-up no matter how sincere the intentions.