Director: Santosh Sivan
Producer: Shripal Morakhia, Mubina Rattonsey
Banner: i Dream Production & Santosh Sivan
Cast : Purav Bhandare, Anupam Kher, Rahul Bose, Rahul Khanna, Sana Shaikh, Sarika, Victor Banerji, Ankush Dubey, Dheirya Sonecha
At the core it is a poignant film laced with a lot of sincerity and innocence.
Little tales tell big stories and little eyes hold big wonders. The bigness, emphasised by the littleness and vice-versa, spark a corner in the psyche that makes it singular.
Tahaan, Santosh Sivan’s fable about the boy with a grenade is one such little story full of lofty ideas, ideals,life-threatening situations, and a backdrop with a vast history. But this time the history continues to be the present. It is in the circumstances of this threatening history that Tahaan’s innocence thrives and his mind tries to grasp the deeper meaning of the word ‘maksad’. Tahaan poses a question to his grandpa, ‘Does everyone have a purpose to their life?’ and grandpa replies in the affirmative. Soon enough, in a deft stroke of smart writing, the writer and director inform us of little Tahaan’s purpose in the near future. The search for his donkey, someone he loves more than a brother. Someone who keeps him connected to his estranged father. The purpose that is going to become an all-consuming search for him.
Yes, on the face of it, the movie seems to have a similar premise as to Sivan’s much-reckoned, delectable film Halo. But Tahaan is an individual film that speaks of different issues, different worlds and hence through different eyes.
But the language of childhood is universal. And Sivan, an established magician with children’s performances paints a world as fresh as dew even in the ravaged valley amongst poverty-ridden circumstances just because that world is seen through Tahaan’s eyes. This cleanness brings a poignancy to the tale which otherwise has been under-exploited. Tahaan’s persistence at finding his donkey through all odds, his natural resilience to obstacles, his straightforward, logical child’s point of view, unsullied by experience, his forthright trust and innate goodness brighten the atmosphere of the story delicately lined with pain.
Because the film also tells the story of Haba, Tahaan’s mother, an unknown widow, a phenomenon rampant in Kashmir where women do not know if their missing men are dead or not and continue to live in an endless wait for their husbands to come back home. Her silent pain shed through copious tears and countless trips made to police stations and border to find her husband leaves one shaken at the unspeakable trauma of Kashmiris.
On the same side of the spectrum is Subhan Darr, the merchant who has bought Tahaan’s donkey from the Lala, Haba sells it to. Subhan Darr has lost everything to militants except an eight-year-old nephew whom he holds as dear as a son. His story outlines every Kashmiri’s story.
And all-pervasive is the atmosphere of terror. Of curfews and gunshots as common as a cock’s crow and of little hands being used in the international game of blood and borders. Tahaan’s innocent search, seemingly innocuous but to him his life’s aim and his unwitting help to anti-national elements, brings the contrast between the soft and the hard, the caring and the uncaring, the human and the inhuman. The simple juxtaposition of the apple and the bomb draw a metaphor that comprises all of these.
The film is laced with little morals that complete the fable it is. But cinematic overuse over time has unfortunately rendered those clichés. The film loses its grip in its attempt to moralise and include universal messages.
The film adopts a natural tone of voice, being a realistic film. The progression is not smooth, sometimes lacking in coherent follow-up of events or a decent exposition. Beautifully framed shots more often come together to convey much less than it meant to. Vignettes of cinematic brilliance in Tahaan trying to catch a magical ray in a shaft of sunlight, him spontaneously participating in a Sufi folk song and compelling Darr saab and Faraaz too etc, make the ride pleasant but they are too few and far-between.
Music by the exceptionally talented Taufique Qureshi brings the right notes of Kashmir into the ambience, something that helps the story-teller tell his story better.
Sivan’s lenses capture Kashmir in its earthiness without an attempt to beautify the sunsets or glorify the mountains. It is Tahaan’s reality and he presents it as his home, not a wonderland for the viewer. Stormy evenings and sunny days with pristine snow and frozen lakes are aptly not romanticized to the extent that the terrain, the weather, the mountains becomes a part of the story.
But the genius lurking inside finds expression in a beautifully golden morning reflected in golden tones of Tahaan’s humble hut and the cool blue tones of cold winter night with moonlight seeping in.
Tahaan sees some interesting characters and their portrayals. Purab plays Tahaan straight from the heart so much so that his expressive over-flowing with silent tears is powerful enough to evoke a lump in the viewer’s throat. Saarika displays an exceptional hold over her character with a pain that has million dimensions. Victor Banerjee is an absolute pleasure to watch as he effortlessly plays the ailing grandfather who is also the guiding force of Tahaan’s life. This little family, in the throes of pain draws a shadow on the performances of Anupam Kher, who, is competent but does not seem to take the character to its full potential. Rahul Khanna is apt in a guest appearance and so is Rahul Bose who plays a village idiot, seems to enjoy what he does but somehow isn’t able to take the audience along with him.
It is a small film that carries great stories of strife and little nuggets of wisdom. Even as it is sensitive it fails to be as evocative as it aims to and the clichés of morals pull it down.