Actors: Darsheel Safary, Atul Kulkarni
In 1997, Majid Majidi made Children Of Heaven, and immediately marked himself out among the most humanistic of contemporary filmmakers. This quiet film, shot secretly in Teheran to retain the realism of its images, concerns a little kid born to really poor parents. It starts out with his search for a lost pair of shoes and ends up with a racing competition, where the boy is determined to finish second runner's up, so he can win the third prize most precious to him: a new pair of sneakers.
In the meanwhile, the boy and his sister share the same pair of shoes to school, lest the parents, who can’t afford another pair, get to know. Their school timings suitably match: his starts when hers finishes.
Anyone who’s seen Children Of Heaven, but for the Academy jury that didn’t award it the Oscar in ’98, is likely to have felt a slight lump in their throat. The film certainly moved me to tears in a way its inspiration, Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, didn’t.
Art of any kind, I suppose, is still in the interpretation of it. Here’s what a few delightful dum-dums given to market this Bumm Bumm Bole - Majidi’s official Hindi remake - saw in that original, stirring classic.
They sensed in the boy’s sneaker and in the final racing sequence, an extended advertising spot for a leading footwear brand, Adidas. There’s also a stall nearby at the races to promote Horlicks! The growing boy downs a cuppa.
Following the unusual success of Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par, a minor homage to Children Of Heaven itself, they of course also noticed the little bug-teethed boy Darsheel, so he can over-act with a cuddly kid made even more cutesy for a li’l sister (Ziyah Vastani).
The team could also conjure up loud, kiddish nursery rhyme beats for a background score. They even imagined a long animation sequence, and a song around a shoe.
The subject though is entirely for grown-ups. Only an adult can fully empathise with the charm and innocence of childhood. Children prefer flicks about adults.
Like all of Priyadarshan’s Hindi films, it is difficult to accurately place this picture. A reference to Bihu ascribes the setting to Assam -- most dress adequately Persian, look slightly Kashmiri. The kids study at Christian missionary schools, infamous for their disciplinarian ways. Teachers there talk in Hindi only Doordarshan newsreaders will understand. The parents have lost their jobs at a nearby tea estate, and the local police often harasses the family, the father (Atul Kulkarni) in particular.
Priyadarshan, by the way, observed in Majidi’s simple, pleasant story-line a potential plot around ULFA militants, the bomb, and the killing fields of Northeast!
Between the motion pic company Percept and the assembly line theatrical productions of Priyadarshan, the gentle lyricism of the Persian Majidi is entirely numbed. Or, I guess, for want of a shoe, the horse (or the kingdom) is completely lost!
Iranians don’t have the luxury of cinema that can do well on the sell, sex, songs, or a naked Salman alone. Auteurs like Majidi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf or Abbas Kiarostami have touched millions of filmgoers worldwide, not despite, but because of the post-Revolution, censored societies they’re sucked into. The obstacles have challenged them to get more creative. They bring in fresh Asian meat into the international film scene repeatedly every year. We don’t.
It helps that Iranians also look a lot like us, and their homes, cultures and cities (though I’ve only been to two: Teheran and Esphahan) appear astoundingly similar. So do our cinema roots. Ardeshir Irani (Alam Ara), most may not know, also made Iran's first talkie film.
The producers could’ve saved themselves all the effort and expenses, and just dubbed Children Of Heaven in Hindi instead. There’s always another time. And there’s a whole library worth exploring. Hopefully it can be done without grand creative inputs of geniuses like Priyadarshan and others.