Pari, a ten-year-old girl, runs away from home with her blind younger brother Chotu in a bid to recover his sight when she sees a poster of filmstar Shah Rukh Khan encouraging people to donate their eyes and discovers he’s filming in a distant village. However, they’ve only got four days to get there and the clock is not on their side.
And that is the simple crux of the story. A road movie set across the plains of Rajasthan led by two youngsters with very little money and hardly any knowledge of the world beyond their school. Coming so soon after the harrowing, fantastic Lakshmi – which portrayed the story of how an innocent teenager is sold into and escapes from a life of prostitution – acclaimed filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor could have easily went for a much darker route here, especially with the amount of strangers that the children come across on their journey. However, with the exception of one small subplot, Dhanak is a different animal entirely much more akin to the light-heartedness of Iqbal, Kukunoor’s most popular film to date.
Although Dhanak lacks the star power of Iqbal’s Naseeruddin Shah, the scattered performances of the whole cast are well above par, none-more-so than the two leading roles held by Hetal Gadha and Krrish Chhabria. Their interplay is so natural, that it’s difficult to tell that the two aren’t related for real, let alone brother and sister. The film’s journey depends on their relationship, and fortunately this pays off well, thanks to a fluid communication between the two that both delivers belly laughs and draws on the heartstrings.
Chhabria’s interpretation of a child with blindness is faultless, and an amazing achievement for an actor of his age. Also deserving of merit is the fact that the script effortlessly steers clear of melodrama, which is often typical of films exploring disability. Our first introduction to Chotu sees him ready to put up a fight with the school bully, but coming home without his uniform and taking it within his stride as a common occurrence.
The cinematography of village life in Rajasthan is beautiful but simple, much akin to Kukunoor’s Dor. Thankfully he steers clear of large, majestic buildings that would have been typical of Bollywood, keeping the story fully focused on the characters and their journey.
With the ticking clock of whether the children will track down Shah Rukh Khan soon enough (and even if he’ll agree to help them at all!) always keeps the stakes high, especially with the added obstacles that come their way. However, the film does falter at some of its pivotal moments, where the children find themselves too easily saved by coincidences of the right people being there at the right time. It would have been more rewarding if their own actions had somehow been responsible for their rescues.
Nonetheless, Dhanak is sweet, light, enjoyable and well worth a watch. And after scooping this year’s Audience Award at the Berlinale Film Festival, there are many who agree.
Dhanak was screened as part of the London Indian Film Festival. The festival will return to London in July 2016.