With all attention on the hyper-controversial drugged drama this week, this silent killer of a gem sneaks up on us, with the minimum of fanfare and maximum impact.
Dhanak is a very rare product of a breed of cinema where simplicity and intelligence come together in an unlikely marriage of excellence. The main characters are a bright little blind boy Chotu who is a brat like his idol Salman Khan, and a whiner and a drama king playing the blind card when it suits him, and his sister Pari, wiser beyond her years, endlessly exasperated by her kid-brother’s antics but committed to being his support and anchor as they set off to meet, hold your breath, Shah Rukh Khan who is committed to restoring his eyesight.
The journey is interspersed with an endearing array of encounters with characters who appear so much part of the sandswept landscape you wonder if Kukunoor decided to include them in his young travellers’ journey just because they (the incidental characters) were around. Even the eternally buffoonish Suresh Menon puts in a deeply moving cameo as a man who has lost his family and mind.
There is an epic moment of bonding during crisis when a sudden sandstorm sweeps the two kids for shelter into a broken-down truck. Kukunoor is as comfortable drawing out emotional equations in closed spaces as he is the wide open sand dunes.
Do the siblings, on a cross-country trek through rural Rajasthan, meet Mr Khan? Let’s just say Dhanak is a far better and more worthy tribute to the stardom and aura of Shah Rukh Khan than the recent Fan which messed it up by getting the superstar-fan relationship wrong in the second-half.
Dhanak doesn’t strike one false note. It’s heartrending when it wants to be and furiously funny at will (as in the interlude at the wedding where Chotu sings, gorges on jalebis and even fixes up a match for his sister so that she doesn’t leave him after marriage). The two young protagonists played by Krish Chabria and Hetal Gada are such natural-born actors, you wonder where Kukunoor found them. The two children bring unconditional joy to the script. And they speak a language that is real vital and believable. The conversations between the 8-going-on-9 year old Chotu and his 11-year old sister ring so true, it’s like watching them without the camera in position.
As the two children set off on a cross-country journey to meet the superstar Nagesh Kukunoor’s elegant simple and lucid screenplay weaves into the plot the kind of close encounters of the thundering kind that expose the two kids to an incredibly expansive world of kindness and generosity.
Nagesh shoots Rajasthan’s desertscape with a reined-in luminosity, neither over-punctuating the topography for emotional impact nor underplaying it for the sake of counter-touristic brevity. Not since the cinema of J P Dutta has Rajasthan been shot with such skilful serenity. Chirantan Das is a poet masquerading as a cinematographer.
The film’s other commendable component is the exhilarating music score by Tapas Relia. The songs and music urge little sightless Chotu’s adventures into areas of sunshine even when the clouds loom large.
Barring one near-catastrophic encounter with kidnappers, Chotu and his protective motherly sister never come face-to-face with any serious peril. I wouldn’t say that’s a blind spot in the narrative. Good knows in a world that addresses itself to a drugged-out diabolism we need all the sunshine and positivity we can get.
Without overdoing it Dhanak offers ample doses of both.
No, you really can’t pluck holes in Nagesh Kukunoor’s enchanting excursion into the heart of innocence and salvation. This is a heartwarming ode to the dying spirit of the human and selfless compassion. Moving funny and memorable, the two child actors are miraculous.
Ditto the film.