July 8, 2011
Nitesh Tiwari, Vikas Bahl
Irrfan Khan, Sanath Menon, Rohan Grover, Naman Jain, Aarav Khanna, Vishesh Tiwari, Chinmai Chandranshuh, Vedant Desai, Shriya Sharma, Divij Handa
Just a week after a close-up of human excrement in Delhi Belly, here comes a lingering shot of doggy poo (or so you think) in Chillar Party. But fear not all you parents, the two films have little else in common beyond a powerful Khan each as producer.
So here’s what I truly love about Chillar Party … a bunch of utterly charming children, a director duo with that rare ability to extract natural performances from child actors, Amit Trivedi’s music plus a producer (Salman Khan) who is backing this unconventional film while at the peak of his career as a mainstream, muscle-baring star.
What I do not like about Chillar Party … A second half that defies logic in a film that’s clearly intended to be realistic, the exclusion of girls and women from most of the action and decision-making in a film that’s meant to be about inclusiveness and acceptance, plus a certain ambiguity in its feelings towards the bare human form.
And Ranbir Kapoor’s item song? Well before we get to that point, hear this: nothing I say in this critique should take away from the fact that those kids are talented and sweet and natural born actors. Directors Nitesh Tiwari and Vikas Bahl, please take a bow along with your casting director Mukesh Chhabra for discovering this motley crew to play your lead artistes in Chillar Party. They’re as gifted as that remarkable gang from director Amole Gupte’s Stanley ka Dabba, though my favourite children’s ensemble cast in a Hindi film still remains Sagar Ballary’s team in his completely unheralded film Kaccha Limboo.
Chillar Party takes us to Chandan Nagar Cooperative Housing Society in Mumbai where eight little boy buddies with cutesy nicknames like Encyclopedia and Jhangiya hang out together. They’re the Chillar Party. When the boy Fatka is employed to wash the cars in the colony, the Chillar Party decide to get rid of him because they’re afraid his dog Bheedu will soil their playground just like another dog that already lives there. But after their initial harsh behavior towards him, they become friends. So when a state minister targets Bheedu in his campaign to rid Mumbai of stray dogs, the kids put up a fight for their canine pal.
The film is filled with endearing instances of humour that are as well written as they are well acted, except for a few scenes in which the children are made to try too hard to be adorable. The episode involving doggy do is fun. But my favourite scene is when the nerdy kid explains to his friends that NOC stands for No Objection Certificate, and the immediate response from one of his friends is a very mournful: “I’ve never won a certificate.”
But even more than the humour, the writers need to be lauded for not painting the children as saints. This is the one big issue I had with Stanley ka Dabba – the failure to recognise that children are not uniformly flawless creatures. It takes courage to acknowledge that children can sometimes be nasty. That’s what bullying in schools and peer pressure are all about. And in Chillar Party we see the mean streak in our otherwise loveable bunch when they play cruel pranks on Fatka to get him out of Chandan Nagar, not quite realising that working in their housing complex is a matter of life and death for this impoverished orphan.
This is the beautiful part of Chillar Party – the children’s journey from resentment to admiration for Fatka’s resilience, their penitence, the little boy asking his mother, “If someone has done nothing to harm me, but I make a concerted effort to harm him, does that mean I’m a bad human being?” Alas, this poignant portion is followed by an improbable, overly stretched Part 2 about a politician who risks his entire career over the Chillar Party and Bheedu.
And while the film is clearly well intentioned, I must say I’m concerned about the subliminal messages it is sending out about power equations in households. The children need to get signatures from the residents of Chandan Nagar to save Bheedu from eviction – barring one exception, they seem to approach only men for signatures. When a woman in a family is shown making the decision to sign or not to sign, her husband is portrayed as being hen-pecked.
I also find it hard to believe that boys in a co-ed school and ranging in age from 4-11 would have no female friends. And when the children of Mumbai join Chillar Party’s underwear campaign for Bheedu, there’s no explanation for why only boys participate. Director Nitesh Tiwari tells me: “Our conscience didn’t permit us to show topless girls in our film, however small they may be.” So they were uncomfortable with showing bare-bodied little girls on screen, but had no qualms about parading little boys in their chaddis before us? I find this conservatism confusing and unconvincing.
As for Ranbir Kapoor’s item number … it’s entertaining as a standalone video and I do appreciate the fact that he wiggles his cute tushy at the camera repeatedly. But it arrives inexplicably part way through the end credits, and might actually be missed by many members of the audience. If you do watch Chillar Party for those loveable kids, make sure you stay right till the end for Ranbir’s Tai tai phiss. And if you have an answer to an extremely pertinent question that one of the children asks about child labour, please do tell me what it is.
Rating (out of five): **1/2
CBFC Rating: U without cuts
Running time: 135 Minutes
Photograph courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/chillarparty