Director Nila Madhab Panda (I Am Kalam) has taken the sensitive but highly important subject of female foeticide and woven it into a children’s adventure tale.
The story of Jalpari: The Desert Mermaid revolves around a city bred family of a single parent father Dev (Parvin Dabas), his two young children (Lehar Khan and Krishang Trivedi) and their grandmother (Suhasini Mulay). One summer holiday the family journeys to the ancestral village where doctor Dev intends to build a hospital in the memory of his deceased wife.
His children are more excited to learn swimming in the village lake. But all the water bodies have dried out, barring one which is out of bounds to the children. This is all the challenge the brave and individualistic Shreya needs to begin an exploration and adventure that will unearth dark and terrible secrets.
Panda once more works wonders with a talented set of child actors with both Khan and Trivedi pitching in with commendable performances. Harsh Mayer (I Am Kalam) is superb as the village bully who leads a pack of rowdies that trouble Shreya and Sam. Dabas and Mulay infuse their respective characters with measured likeability.
While the story builds up well, bringing in elements of suspense and mystery at the right time, it is let down by the climax which does not deliver on its promise.
However, the music (Midival Punditz, Piyush Mishra, Ashish Chauhan) and editing (Apurva Asrani) make up for the inconsistencies in the cinematography (Savita Singh) and script (Deepak Venkateshan). Together they create a mood for village life, juxtapose urban and rural attitudes and enhance Panda’s message which is subtly, but determinedly, interwoven into the script.
It’s not easy to take a social issue and make it entertaining for both parents and (older) children, but Panda achieves this with conviction.