Return to Innocence

There’s something entirely joyous about kites fluttering high in the sky,far away from us,and yet close enough to be enticing.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published:July 21, 2012 3:33 am

Gattu

DIRECTOR: Rajan Khosa

CAST: Mohammad Samad,Naresh Kumar,Jayanta Das

Rating: ***1/2

There’s something entirely joyous about kites fluttering high in the sky,far away from us,and yet close enough to be enticing. Woh Kaata is a shout many of us will remember from our childhood,at least those of us lucky enough to have had the freedom to be outdoors,handling patangs and manjha: oh,the hours I spent all those summers ago learning how to fling the kite just that way,so that it would get that exact lift,and away,away it would go,soaring,lifting our spirits.

Gattu’s (Samad) sole spot of joy also comes from his deft handling of kites. Kite-flying helps him escape his life full of drudgery in a kabaadkhaana,surrounded by the discards of other people. He is an orphan who’s been taken under his chacha’s (Kumar) wings,so he’s not exactly on the streets,but he could very well be,given that he gets a bare bed and scant food and a lot of brusqueness in return for unending free labour. The one thing that bothers him,as he goes about his pursuits,is a black kite: it appears every day,squiggles its tail triumphantly at those trying to “cut” it,and disappears. Who is the mysterious owner? And where does it go?

Rajan Khosa’s Gattu is a charming film which will appeal to both children and adults. Because it doesn’t patronise or talk down to its young cast,nor to its potential viewers. Gattu’s poverty,which we can see in his unwashed,dirty clothes,and in his surroundings,is not used to beat us on the head with: he may be poor in terms of having spendable money,but in other ways,Gattu is rich. Because he has the spirit to keep himself from drowning in self-pity,and also because he has the smarts to outwit his suspicious uncle,to get what he wants: a brand new kite to out-fly Kali.

There are times when the film feels more stretched than it should have,even in its tight run-time of 80 minutes. And in some parts,it feels a tad stagey,especially when a few of the children,including Gattu,are made to square up in what is supposed to be street-speak. But these are just a few patches: the rest of it is an understated,but thought-provoking look at childhood,and what being “underprivileged” can really mean.

There’s a beautifully realised sequence in which Gattu,well played by Mohammad Samad,tells his uncle how his being a bina maa-baap ka bachcha leads him,his uncle,to behave in a certain callous,even cruel way. It could have been milked for more than it delivers,but the film gets it just right. We feel a lump in our throat,which dissolves as soon as we realise that the smart little fellow was playing both the uncle and us: that sympathy card was just like a sharp manjha.

Gattu’s adventures lead him into what is clearly a tiny municipal school whose children are dropped off by cycles and rickshaws,but for the little boy who cannot afford a new kite for Rs 15,even this much is too much. How he enters a world unknown to him,and how that world and its uniform-clad,neat inhabitants exert a pull upon him,and how he bests his teacher and principal (Das) is a fun ride. As is the big reveal in the end. Yes,the mystery man is shown up for who he is,and Kali is vanquished.

It is so rare to see real children in our movies that Gattu,produced by the Children’s Film Society Of India which has had a long history of making

didactic and preachy ‘children’s films’ and which is now clearly breaking out of it,seems like a gift. Share it.

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