Although Disney Motion Picture Studios is best known, of course, for its animated movies, the company has always sought to expand its creative interests. Recently, Disney has slowly been making its way into the Indian film industry by producing several unique projects making one Telugu and two Hindi films. The Telugu film Once Upon a Warrior (Anaganaga O Dheerudu) was a special effects-filled fantasy adventure, then there was the very well received Hindi film Do Dooni Chaar, which stars Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, and the other Hindi film Zokkomon (touted as the first Indian child superhero movie). All three were released on DVD this week in the US and Canada and for the first time ever Indian films, (Zokkomon and the other two aforementioned Disney World cinema films) were also released on several platforms including iTunes, Amazon and pay per view channels on the same day as their DVD release. Since we earlier reviewed both Once Upon a Warrior and Do Dooni Chaar, we thought it would be fun to honor these special releases by taking a look at Zokkomon. Directed by Satyajit Bhatkal, the film stars Darsheel Safary (you may remember him from Taare Zameen Par). The young actor was joined by Anupam Kher (over 400 films) and Manjari Fadnis (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na).
First the story: Kunal, an orphaned boy (Darsheel Safary), is at a school he loves, has friends, and is happy until his mean evil Uncle Deshraj decides it is time for Kunal to come live with him in their small village. Deshraj runs a school, but it is a very poorly run institution full of incompetent teachers. On top of that, Deshraj has been stealing the money he has been given by the School Board for books and a library. When Deshraj is found out he decides to do something drastic. He takes Kunal for a fun day at a carnival, abandons him there, comes back to the village and says that Kunal died in a train accident. With Kunal “gone” he gets the money Kunal’s parents left him and can pay back the money he “borrowed”. Poor and alone, Kunal meets Kittu Didi, a free spirited artist who lives in a theater warehouse. She takes Kunal under her wing and they become a family. Cue montage! They decide to go back to Kunal’s village, but fate interferes and Kunal has to go back alone. Everyone thinks Kunal is dead so when the villagers see him they think they are seeing a ghost. Enter Magic Uncle, a scientist who has hidden away from the small-minded people of the village in a big old house. To make the town and school a better place (and get a bit of revenge) the two join together and invent a character for Kunal to play: Zokkomon. What happens next is the story of a “superhero” whose powers come from a bit of science and of course a bit of magic. In the end, good triumphs over evil–which is how every great story should end.
The good: The acting and characterizations
Manjari Fadnis has to be mentioned first because she lit up the screen as Kittu Didi. I have to admit when I first saw her in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, I was not too impressed. However, she was absolutely wonderful as Kittu Didi. She brought such freshness, and joy to the role. Her performance was my favorite of the film. Darsheel once again proved he is an Actor, not just a precocious child star. As in his previous roles, you can literally feel his pain, confusion, and joy even when there are no words for him to speak at all. He owns every scene he is in. Are there moments where he falters? Yes, but that is more due to the script then his abilities. I cannot wait to see this young actor grow up and provide us with even more amazing performances. Of course, Anupam Kher is brilliant playing both Deshraj and Magic Uncle. He plays Deshraj with just enough of the comedy that is needed. Kher told us he wanted this character to almost have an animated feel to him and that is a perfect description for his characterization. It teeters on being over the top, but it works for this film. As for the portrayal of Magic Uncle, the makeup hid Mr. Kher so well that if I did not know he played both roles, I would not have guessed it. Apparently neither did his wife or mother but you can read more about that in our interview with him. However, it was not only his makeup that made Anupam disappear into the character. He completely changed his bearing, his movement and his entire way of talking. He truly became a completely different person. He is wonderful as Magic and of the two, this is my favorite performance of his in the film. To pull off one is great, to pull off both is extremely impressive.
The mediocre: The music, the story, the editing
The songs written by Shankar Ehsaan and Loy are good and one of my favorite songs is ‘Suno Brother’ sung by Suraj Jagan, but the rest of the songs are merely nice. All the picturizations were great, but the music just fell a little flat. The opening song, ‘Jhunjhunmakadstrama’ seemed very out of place. As for the song in the warehouse, ‘Eena Meena Myna Mo’, I loved Manjari and Darsheel, loved the concept, but the song was a mix of too many musical styles. Another good thing was the story without the Zokkomon character arc; it was like a classic India folk tale. Direction by Satyajit Bhatkal was good and he did really well in many scenes. However, he only gets a “good” rating because of what is coming next in the “not so good” section. In addition, the editing could have been smoother. The transitions between scenes were choppy which caused a feeling of discontinuity at times.
Now for the not so good: The superhero story arc
Unfortunately, the main problem with the film is actually what was used as its main publicity strategy: the superhero story. I never quite got the whole point of having him be a superhero instead of just letting the villagers continue to believe he was a ghost. If the filmmakers had left Kunal as a spirit they could still have had him use the cool gadgets and save the town, but it would not have felt so contrived. We also would not have been subjected to the over the top costume which did nothing to further the story or enhance the performances. Better to have left it a nice classic tale and saved Zokkomon and his costume for perhaps joining with G.One in Ra.One to save the world. This movie tried hard to be both a classic story and a superhero action adventure, but it really missed the mark.
DVD release info: The extras on the DVD/digital copy includes a “making of” segment. It is fine, showing lots of behind the scenes action. The deleted scenes are also interesting but the movie would most likely have been less choppy had they not been edited out.
Overall: Even with its flaws, and the moments I rolled my eyes at the screen, I actually enjoyed Zokkomon. My advice is to take the superhero part with a grain of salt and remind yourself as you watch that this is meant to be a children’s film. Could it have been better? Yes, but the performances make up for any concept and story issues. Give it a try!