Sunday ReRun: Dhanak, a Lovely Love Letter to Shahrukh, and Children, and Hope and Love and All Good Things

I watched this movie because I thought it might be a Shahrukh thing. But turns out, it is such a lovely movie that the Shahrukh part of it barely matters to me. There is so much else to love.

It is such a little story.  It’s not about trying to be saved from a flood or winning a war, it’s just two little kids who want to go to school together.  And they need a miracle to keep her out of the fields and to give him back his eyes.

The whole film hinges on us wanting these two kids to succeed, so it’s a good thing they are such wonderful kids!  Good kids without being boring perfect kids.  They eat too much, they fight with each other, they are disrespectful to their aunt.  But they also are incredibly loyal to each other, and accept cheerfully all the burdens that fate has put on them.  And they aren’t contented to just sit around and do nothing to fix the situation either, they are ready to take action and work to achieve their little plans.

All of that is in the script, the backstory and so on.  But what really sells it is the child actors, Hetal Gadda and Krrish Chchabria.  Both of them manage to look like normal funny kids, not shockingly cute or beautiful, but they also have just this glow that comes out of them that makes you love them.  I could see them, either of them, going on to be big stars.  Or, I could see them going on to get degrees from good schools and live long happy lives and never appear onscreen again.  They were just that right combination of normal and star quality that could go either way.

(I watched this song and I KNEW this little girl was going to grow up to be a star)

That “normal” quality also helps us to accept all the tragedies of their lives without making them feel like melodrama.  A different director, and different children, could have played “our parents died, we were sent to live in poverty with our unloving aunt and weak uncle, and the little brother went blind through malnourishment while his big sister was pulled from school at age 12 to work in the fields” as just misery piled on misery, to the point where the audience loses the ability to care.  But instead, this was all handled with a very light touch.  Much the way children approach these things, as facts of life with no need to agonize over them or live in the past.

And, unfortunately, as they are probably treated in many places in India.  I looked up childhood blindness through malnourishment, and it is way more common than I realized!  It doesn’t even come from, like, starvation.  It’s just not getting enough vitamin A in your diet.  You can still be feeding your children enough food to keep them active and energized, but if it isn’t varied enough, they will be knocked down by sickness, and eventually may go blind.  And of course the education rates for girls are pretty horrible in basically the entire 3rd world.  Well, for all children really, but girls have it harder.

“Pulled from school to work in the fields” sounds so doom and gloomy, but actually we do get a little glimpse of her time in the fields, and it’s not that bad!  Her aunt is gently encouraging, teaching her how to do the work.  She is surrounded by other women and girls doing the same work.  And we don’t see her exhausted at the end of the day or worked to death or anything.  The tragedy isn’t what she is doing, it’s what she is missing out on, the chance to spend a little longer learning and developing, a little longer with options open to her, before she is limited down to just the same manual labor she will do the rest of her life, first for her aunt and uncle, then for her husband’s family, then for her son’s.

Nothing is really THAT bad.  Her uncle is a little weak and a little lazy, but he has his little jokes with the kids and he takes them to movies.  Their aunt is cross all the time and underfeeds them a little.  But she doesn’t hit them, she doesn’t throw them out of the house and, as I said above, she doesn’t ACTUALLY starve them.  Not, like, trying to kill them by withholding food.  Just not going that extra mile.

It is only bad because Hetal Gadda has promised her brother that she will make sure he can see again before his 9th birthday.  And, for both children, if she breaks that promise it will be the end of their little world.  Hetal could not survive if she admitted that she was unable to do everything she has promised her brother.  And Krrish’s whole belief system rests on Hetal being able to fulfill everything she promises him.

For that promise to fail is the worst disaster within their own little world, the one they have built together.  This little world that they share seems completely reasonable to me.  These kids are, if anything, LESS close than I am with my big sister (for instance, see the whole post I did for her birthday!).  We’re adults now, and we still drop into our own little world as soon as we talk on the phone.  I know not all siblings are like this, but I don’t think it is that uncommon, to come up with your little games and in jokes and practices as you spend everyday all day together through out your childhood.

(Yes, this sibling closeness does make me a bit of a sucker for Rajshri films)

The bigger disaster, they one they can’t really grasp as children because it is beyond them to fully conceive of it, is what it means for Krrish to stay in school while Hetal goes to the fields.  It means they are being wrenched apart for the first time.  But this is just the first wrench of many.  Hetal in the fields will turn into Hetal being married into another household.  And Krrish in school will turn into Krrish in a professional life, moving to a higher class, while Hetal stays back, unable to conceive of his life.  It is this break that they can only vaguely see coming towards them, which, I think, provides the final impetus for them to go off and make a final push to arranging that miracle.

And I want to talk about the people they meet along the way and what it all means (I think this is where the importance of the movie fandom really shines through), but that means spoiling for you what happens.  So, SPOILER SPOILERS SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Hetal and Krrish live with their aunt and uncle, as I mentioned.  The opening scene establishes that their home life is less than ideal.  Their uncle sits and pulls on his hookah, while their aunt gives them a small breakfast and a tiny lunch, ignoring their complaints.  But once they get through the gate of the house and start off for school, they are happy again.  They play a game that they clearly play every morning, Krrish flips a coin while Hetal calls heads or tails, Krrish feels the coin to tell where it landed, and whoever wins gets to tell a story about their favorite movie star.  Well, they tell the story together.  The winner starts, and goes as far as they want, then says “and…..”, and the other continues the story.

Right away, we see that their little games and routines shared between them are the saving grace of their little lives.  And that a big part of these games is their relationship with their respective movie stars.  Really, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan, in this way, are more a part of their “family” then their own aunt and uncle, more let into the secret places of their lives and hearts.

(And if you don’t think kids can build deep connections to onscreen heroes, and the heroes respond, let me just remind you of how Salman’s Sultan daughter was cast!)

It’s good that they have some outside source of strength, because poor Hetal has a lot of balls to keep in the air.  She has to get her brother his sight back within the next few months.  And she has to manage to fail down two grades so they are in the same class and she can help him.  Which is what lands her in the fields, when her bad grades make her aunt decide she is wasting time in school.

But Shahrukh is there for her, she spots a poster of him encouraging eye donation (I think?), and decides that the best solution for her problems is to write to Shahrukh for help.  Letter after letter, confidently handed over to the village postman sans stamp with a request for him to send them on.  Until the postman has finally had enough and hands them back to her uncle.

This could have been the end.  Hetal could have found out that the letters never went off, had a crying jag, and given up.  But that would mean her promise would be unfulfilled, and that would be the end of the world.  She promised him he would have his sight back, there was no other option.  So, instead, she decides that the two of them will walk miles and miles to the film sight where Shahrukh is working and ask him for help in person.

This is their pilgrimage.  And it is also the pilgrimage for their bigger family, their aunt and uncle.  When they awake to find the children gone, it also wakes them to their bigger responsibilities.  Again, they were never cruel before, but they seemed to be holding back from fully embracing the idea that they had to think about their children first, and themselves second.  It took a sign that the kids were more trusting and relying on a complete stranger movie star than on their own relatives for their uncle to stop sitting around and go off walking to find them, and for their aunt to cook and pack the very best good for them to eat once he found them.

As is usual on a pilgrimage, most of the people they meet are good people.  The sweet merchant who takes them home and feeds them until they get sick, and lets them play with his little son.  The local female saint.  The white hippie who sings with them.  The wild gypsies who tell their fortune.  All the way to the hanger on at the film site, selling photos and traces of Shahrukh.

And most of these people have a little connection to Shahrukh.  It’s a talisman that lets them make friends of strangers.  A way to draw others into their quest and get help along the way.

Well, most of the time.  They do run across one source of evil.  And, again, it is handled in such a lowkey sensible way that it doesn’t feel melodramatic, even though on paper it is super exciting and also very very evil.  One of the saint’s assistants calls ahead and tips off someone that there are two children traveling alone “the girl will bring some money, but the blind boy is the real prize”.  Which would have seemed odd to me, except that I happened to have just read a newspaper report on a study which showed that male child slaves are much more valuable than female.

It takes a very stressful long time before they are actually kidnapped. It appears that the white hippie will be the threat, but in fact it is the nice middle-aged traveler with a car who approaches them at the tea stall while the hippie is giving them lunch.

He uses Shahrukh’s name, having been tipped off before, and it has the effect of making the children trust him.  They quickly agree to ride in his car and drink his water while he drives them all to Shahrukh’s filming location to meet him.  And then they pass out. (this, by the way, is when my sister called me to ask what she should have for lunch, and we had to talk about that for half an hour, while the whole time I was wondering what happened to the poor drugged children!)

And this is the first sign that a higher power is watching over them.  Possibly Shahrukh (the ending is a little unclear).  A gypsy stops the car, holds it up, scares the kidnappers off, and finds the kids and brings them back to her camp.  Is there a “gypsy kidnapping children” legend in India?  If there is, I kind of love the subversion here, that the respectable type is the one kidnapping, and the gypsies are the good ones.

There is already a bit of a subversion, because the gypsy was sent by a vision, her grandmother had a dream that there was a reason for her to stop a car coming down the road the next day.  Meanwhile, the kidnappers were sent by the corrupt servant of a saint.  Clearly, the formal religious figures are corrupted and forgotten by God, while the free living gypsies are the blessed ones, chosen as instruments of God.

Or, of Shahrukh?  All along, as I said, this has been treated as a pilgrimage.  Not just by the children, but by all they meet.  Everyone accepts as completely normal that two little kids would be walking to meet Shahrukh so Krrish can get his sight back.  And at the very end, they do get a true miracle.  They don’t just meet Shahrukh (or send him a text or a tweet or a message) and ask him to pay for the surgery, which is a real thing that happens to Shahrukh (and Aamir and Salman) on a regular basis.  No, they need him, and he appears.

They reach the film site too late, and are told by the hanger on selling photos of Shahrukh’s footprints and cup that Shahrukh has moved on and is filming a few kilometers away, across the sand dunes.  They start off walking, only to discover too late that they have left their water bottle behind.  Hetal collapses, Krrish walks a little farther and collapses also.

And then, miracle!!! A figure suddenly appears across the dunes, and reaches down and lifts them up.  They are whisked away in a car, brought to a hospital where they get the best treatment they want, their uncle shows up too, and Krrish get’s his eye operation!  They only see the figure who saved them from the back and a distance.  But Hetal finds one of her letters, stamped and processed, lying on a chair in the waiting room.

So, it was Shahrukh.  But, it was also a legitimate miracle.  How did he know how to find them?  How did he carry them back to civilization?  How did her letter reach him if the postman refused to stamp it?  The way it is filmed, we are definitely meant to see him as a mysterious power that appears when needed.

Clearly, that is how Hetal sees him.  Her little child’s mind finds it completely reasonable that the movie star she loves would sense her need and appear when she wanted him, and then give her everything she needed.  Sure, an adult could argue that the postman softened and sent off at least one of her letters.  That one of the many people they met along the way told Shahrukh of the two children searching for him.  That his money and influence could easily arrange a last minute surgery at a hospital.  But then, how did he come to find them in the dunes just when they needed him most?  There is no explanation for that.  Whether it was “Shahrukh-Movie Star God!”, or actual God sending someone to help them, it truly is a miracle.

That’s why this film isn’t for Shahrukh fans only.  It’s not saying that Shahrukh is magical and powerful and can fix everything.  It’s just saying that you have to have faith that SOMETHING will come, something will help you, and if you work towards that, it will.

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Sunday ReRun: Dhanak, a Lovely Love Letter to Shahrukh, and Children, and Hope and Love and All Good Things

  1. Not reading to the bottom as I started the film and didn’t finish yet. But I LOVE it so far. Totally right, the kids are the perfect balance of good and kiddish to make the story work.

    Like

    • So glad you are watching it! I knew anyone who saw it would love it. And don’t worry, the kid’s are fine at the end (normally I worry about spoilers, but I assume with little kids you would want to know in advance that you don’t have to worry?)

      On Sun, Nov 3, 2019 at 2:27 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

      • Based on the tone of your review I just assumed the kids end up safe. I have to choose whether to finish Dhadak or Fan today lol. Yin and yang.

        Like

  2. SPOILER ALERT (MNIK in case you’re still catching up!)

    Although you’re right M, I can’t take it if a dog or kid is killed in a film. I watched MNIK in the theatre and it totally scarred me with the horrifying image of Kajol over her son’s body (way before I was a mom.) I love many parts of the film, love the acting, even though the last hour or so is a weird mishmash of events that are totally implausible.

    Like

    • Not related to the above post, but I’m still waiting for your sitcom opinions!

      On Sun, Nov 3, 2019 at 7:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  3. So far, I have only seen two movies directed by Nagesh Kukunoor (Dhanak and Dor) and I have loved them both so much. I think he does such an amazing job evoking sensitivity, joy, and depth in the relationships between the main characters, whether it is between Hetal and Krissh here or Ayesha Takia and Gul Panang in Dor. Both of these movies give me the same feeling as eating my favorite comfort food. I feel happy, comforted, warm, and satisfied.

    On a more technical note, I also love how he flips stereotypes on their head and makes the audience question their own beliefs. As you mentioned in Dhanak the corrupt religious authorities and the kind, hippie who gives the children chocolate and the gun yielding gypsie who rescues them. Without getting into spoilers, Nagesh does something very similar in Dor with Gul Panang and Ayesha Takia’s characters. It is fascinating to watch and you can tell it is done with intention.

    Like

    • So glad you watched this movie! And yes, such a warm happy world of people caring for people. Not in a Rajshri style way of over the top sentiment that sometimes feels forced, but real every day caring for each other. I love how the kids in this fight, and also love each other. In my head they grow up and she becomes a teacher and marries the sweet sellers son and her brother lives with them forever and ever.

      This movie has such a lovely view of the world, all of these strangers who just want to help the children because they are children, from the teacher and post office man in their hometown, to all the people who give them rides along the way, it is only their aunt and uncle and the Bad Man who are really bad. It could so easily have been a film about two fragile children running from danger to danger, instead of finding safety almost everywhere.

      On Tue, Nov 5, 2019 at 10:37 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

      • I actually liked the way the aunt and uncle were depicted. I didn’t hate them and even could empathize with the. To me, the Uncle took them in, shows them movies to help them dream (even described the movies to Krissh, plays with them, but at the same time he doesn’t work or have the means to take care of them. Whereas the Aunt has to be the “grown-up” and deal with the day-to-day reality of figuring out how to put feed everyone and run the house. She doesn’t get the luxury of being frivolous and hence comes across as harsh.

        Like

        • It was a nice contrast to the usual Seeta Aur Geeta version of over the top evil relatives. And showing the reality of why relatives may be “evil”. But I feel like the film didn’t fully excuse them either. They were doing a lot, but the kids deserved just a little more. Nutrition to help them grow strong and healthy, even if the aunt and uncle had to go hungry to do it. Making sure they stayed in school, and understanding why the little girl was failing backwards on purpose. Which I think is what happened at the end, once the kids were gone the aunt and uncle faced up a bit and decided to do just that little extra.

          And we got to see why that little girl was so sure she was responsible for fixing everything, because her aunt and uncle had kind of let things go instead of stepping in sooner and making sure she knew it was okay to just be a kid for a while. Does that make sense? She had her happy smile and was planning everything out, but she could have/should have talked to a teacher or other adult. Only she didn’t think adults were there to solve her problems, she thought they were on their own (except for Shahrukh of course).

          On Tue, Nov 5, 2019 at 11:05 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

          Like

  4. Finished this last night – I really enjoyed it. The kids are lovely little actors, and I appreciated the realistic humanity of each member of the family. The aunt and uncle selfish but not irredeemable, the kids sweet but feisty, and a nice message that mostly people are good and willing to help when they can, but still keep an eye (pun intended) out in case that’s not true.

    Like

    • I don’t know what they did with the child actors, but they successfully made them comfortable on camera. I loved how they were scratching their heads and wriggling around and just generally being kids instead of actors.

      On Tue, Nov 5, 2019 at 12:27 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

    • Which was so sweet because it means he actually did buy the stamp for the little girl just to be nice and because he promised he would. I am 100% in the realm of “Shahrukh got the letters, magically knew she was in trouble and nearby, and saved her without wanting thanks”.

      On Tue, Nov 5, 2019 at 12:31 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.