Jhalki movie review: Where the film is most heartbreaking is in its realisation of the desperation of poverty — when it is not busy romanticising it.
Jhalki movie cast: Aarti Jha, Goraksh Sakpal, Govind Namdeo, Sanjay Suri, Divya Dutta, Tannishtha Chatterjee
Jhalki movie director: Brahmananda S Singh
Jhalki movie rating: 2 stars
Documentarian Brahmananda S Singh gets some things quite right in Jhalki: Ek Aur Bachpan. Like the colour of its little Jhalki’s straw brown hair. It remains the same, uncombed, entangled, carrying its UP village with it, even after at least one good wash. That hair tells the problems with this film as good as any: its imagination is limited to the atmospherics; its characters (and some very good actors) flounder about.
Inspired by Kailash Satyarthi, his Bachpan Bachao Andolan and “true events”, the film has a clear enough brief — From a UP village a middleman routinely takes children to the town for labour, offering their parents money, fending off their anxious queries with small gifts such as an LED torch. Jhalki is determined not to let her younger brother meet the same fate, and so follows him to Mirzapur town when that happens. There she goes looking for him, as the officials let her down and a journalist comes to her rescue, through the labyrinthine hovels of the town’s carpet-weaving industry.
If the story is tailor-made for tears, Singh doesn’t try to spare any. However, the film leaves one unmoved due to its cardboard characters, but for the spunky Jhalki, her brother Babu (Jha and Sakpal, respectively), and her village. Where the film is most heartbreaking is in its realisation of the desperation of poverty — when it is not busy romanticising it. It layers the very soil of Jhalki’s home, it underlines her deepest fears, it keeps her awake at night and makes her grow up too early, it allows her to be thankful that her alcoholic father is not turning out her brother as yet, it explains Jhalki’s belief of the Collector as raja (her understanding of the world coming from an animated folk tale, that is the film’s tallest leap of imagination), it inhabits the living quarters of the boys at the carpet-weaving unit, it can’t speak its name outside closed rooms where a man leads a small boy after caressing his cheek, and it lingers in the grateful smile of parents who see the middleman as a godsend.
However, even as it acknowledges much of it, including what the rich and powerful pass off as their “generosity”, it keeps coming back to that straw hair, though Satyarthi himself remains unseen. Jhalki the girl goes far — including scarily roaming the streets of Mirzapur at night. Jhalki the film, released on Children’s Day, does not.