Gautaman Bhaskaran's review: Gattu

Director: Rajan Khosa
Actors: Mohammad Samad, Naresh Kumar
Rating: ***

Rajan Khosa's Gattu, which won the International Jury Generation Kplus Special Mention at the just concluded Berlin International Film Festival, had opened the International Children's Film Festival of India at Hyderabad last November.

Gattu, at 82 minutes, is a charming look at a street boy whose passion for flying kites gets him into the stickiest of situations. Khosa, who won a Special Mention from the young people's jury also at Berlin with his debut feature, Dance of the Wind in 1997, narrates Gattu in a way that is neither condescending nor preachy, while holding the attention of both the young and the older audiences through the right notes of pain and hope.

An orphan living in the Himalayan foothills, Gattu (played with excellent natural ease by Mohammad Samad) works for his strict uncle, doing odd jobs for him that keep the boy out of school, but seldom far from the skies, where his colourful kites fly in a dance of tease and taunt. But there is one kite, the black Kali, whose glass-coated string is so deadly that it cuts just about any other rival in the sky that dares to challenge its supremacy.

Gattu is both frightened and fascinated by Kali, but he is bent on ending its sovereignty in the skies. The little lad knows that there is but one way to get Kali down to the earth, and that is to fly one's kite from the highest point in the village. The local school terrace is the spot that Gattu chooses to wage his do-or-die battle. Stealing a school uniform from a clothesline, he sneaks into a classroom and then on to the roof through a series of adventures, both thrilling and threatening.

Produced by the Children's Film Society of India, the movie is a fascinating portrayal of India's have-nots and the dreams of children living in want. However, unlike Danny Boyle in his Slumdog Millionaire, Khosa is subtle in his presentation, and chooses to train his camera on smile and optimism. There is no garbage and dirt in Gattu, and the school song that celebrates India is not conveyed as a pun or ridicule.

In the end, Samad's Gattu, despite his uncle's unfairness that keeps the boy in the crevices of illiteracy, radiates a kind of joy that one often sees in some of India's gloomiest slums. Using humour, Khosa builds a script which is beautifully balanced, and without the usual clichéd pitfalls.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran covered the International Children's Film Festival for Hindustan Times)


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