In times when streaming platforms are obsessed with dark and gory content, how comforting would it be to watch a feel-good, light-hearted, uplifting film? With this thought, I began watching the short film Khayali Pulao on YouTube. And, it indeed is comforting.
Asha (Prajakta Koli) is a class topper in a small village in Haryana. When we meet her, she is cooking her own ‘khayali pulao’ (daydreaming) until her sports coach Kharab Sir (Yashpal Sharma) announces he is forming a handball team for a match on Republic Day. Asha, who is good in academics, is determined to be a part of this team. Her teacher, coach, friend and mother are unable to fathom her sudden obsession with sports. However, the audience is told, it is not for her love for the sport, but its the uniform, a T-shirt and shorts, that entices her.
Like any social drama that spotlights everything wrong in our society, Khayali Pulao is also a commentary on gender bias. It also has characters who are regressive: a father who is offended by a village girl wearing jeans and t-shirt; a mother who wonders who will marry that girl. But, never does it make you feel uncomfortable. Instead, it is a short film with a simple narrative which gives us something to think about without being preachy.
Writer-director Tarun Dudeja has suggested the reason for Asha’s progressive nature to be her access to the internet, thus focusing on the impact of technology in the growth of a society. For instance, when Asha is told she can’t be in the school’s team, she pays to access the internet and learns the techniques of the game on YouTube.
This story has no villains. Yashpal Sharma, as a sports coach, has delivered a controlled performance where he does only what is required of him. He is not mean or abusive towards a student. He just cares about forming a strong team. Internet sensation Prajakta Kohli does most of the talking through her expressive face and is decent with her Haryanvi accent.
To me, Khayali Pulao, apart from boasting of a strong message on empowering women, highlights the power of hard work and self-belief.
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