`Tahaan` - poetic portrayal of life in Kashmir amidst strife
A fable like fragility runs through Santosh Sivan`s latest film. An exquisitely shot, wonderfully performed work of art set at a lyrical low-octave mellow pitch where you can actually smell the spices from a slow-burning chulha as they cook up an ambrosial aroma that permeates the greenest valley on this side of Frank Capra.
Like Capra, Sivan believes in the inherent goodness of the soul in his characters. There are no bad guys in Tahaan, not even the militants whose guns boom intermittently in the poetic tranquility of Sivan`s Kashmir as little Tahaan (debutant Purav Bhandare) uses all his innocent skills to hold on to his best friend in the world - a donkey.
The strange, stirring and indelible bond between child and nature, and between the child of nature as well as the extraneous circumstances that define the human condition have always fascinated Sivan - both as a director and a cinematographer.
In his directorial debut Terrorist, a young girl (Ayesha Dharker) journeyed from environmental incorruptibility to human-bomb status without forfeiting the fluency of her innate nature.
In Tahaan, the delightfully natural boy comes close to being a human bomb. In a heartbreaking twist to the tale, little Tahaan makes friends with a callow militant(Ankush Dubey) who promises to bring back the child`s darling donkey Birbal in exchange for unknowing acts of terrorism performed by the unsuspecting boy.
The militancy of Sivan`s Kashmir is so gently portrayed, you wonder if such cinematic faith in human nature is a sign of wisdom or the prognosis for creative naivete. The army men smile and shower affections on our little hero, the militants introduce him to the bomb as though it was part of his playschool curriculum.
All is well in paradise as long as the poetry of the human heart flows in sharp rhythms. That is precisely what Sivan does. He captures the elegiac ethos of a civilisation that has seen its best in the past but nevertheless clings innocently to the hope of a better future.
This is the innocent, uncorrupted territory that Satyajit Ray travelled with little Apu 50 years ago and most recently Ishaan in Taare Zameen Par. Tahaan`s journey is far more metaphorical.
A limpid lyricism runs through the picaresque plot as Tahaan encounters various men - from his wise and wacky grandfather (Victor Bannerjee) and a good-hearted cranky sage (Anupam Kher) to a dimwitted womanizer (Rahul Bose) and a practical businessman (Rahul Khanna).
These people crowd our impressionable hero`s consciousness, creating a kaleidoscope of quirky adventures.
In the way that Sivan handles the child actors - not just the delightful Purav but also Dheirya Sonecha who plays Kher`s lonely grandchild - the director seems to have discovered Iranian cinema before Iran discovered it.
Tahaan`s experiences convey the magic of poetic but basic revelations on life as layer after layer, the bitter-sweet nuances of the quirky experiences at the lowest level of existence comes flickering to life.
Tahaan functions at its own pace. There`s no effort to hasten or motivate the narration to any pitch for effect. The plot moves at its own rhythm. The sights and sounds of the valley are captured with the casual grace of a poet who has spent too much time in the lap of beauty to be shaken by the disturbances that have suddenly cropped up in arcadia.
The best performance comes from Sivan`s camera. It captures the essential incorruptibility of Kashmir without plunging the pilgrimage into the pristine into over-sentimentalisation. The performances flow out of the plot and not vice versa. The actors underwhelm the narration, nurturing the tender tale with their supple and subtle expressions of artless candour in a world of roses that guns have sneaked into.
It would be criminal to single one out of the many brilliant `non-performances` (no one acts, they just react to the serene poetry of their surroundings). But Sarika`s muted despair as she goes from abandoned wife to harried but indulgent mother remains with us long after the last flicker of this fragile but strong film peters off.
Tahaan is not your big, booming, terrorist entertainer like A Wednesday. Nor is it your carefully crafted, sensitively pitched treatise on terrorism like Mumbai Meri Jaan. Its appeal is far more profound and intangible. The fable is a playground for Sivan`s tenderest thoughts on the nature and quality of the human touch.
`Tahaan` - is a fable-like journey of the eponymous eight year-old boy, whose
life revolves around the pursuit to find real purpose in his little world.
Tahaan (Purav Bhandare) lives with his grandfather (Victor Banerjee), his mother Haba (Sarika) and older sister Zoya (Sana Shaikh) in the scene meadows of Kashmir. They all live in the hope that someday Tahaan`s father, who`s been missing for three years, will return.
The death of his grandfather leads the local moneylender Lalji and his manger Kuka (Rahul Khanna) to take away the assets of the family, including their pet donkey Birbal, against repayment of a pending loan. Now, life for Tahaan, his mother and sister takes a turn towards rougher pastures. For Tahaan, bringing his favourite donkey Birbal back home becomes the sole purpose in life.
After various efforts at money-making, Tahaan approaches Lalaji with the prospect of regaining his lost asset but is devasted to learn that an old man Subhan Darr (Anupam Kher) has bought Birbal and taken him across the mountains... the same mountains from where Tahaan`s father never returned.
But Tahaan sums up courage and chases after Subhan. The prophetic old man doesn`t befriend Tahaan at first sight but slowly warms up to this energetic and determined soul whose love for Birbal is paramount. But at the end of the journey, Tahaan is further disheartened when Subhan gifts Birbal to his orphaned eight-year-old nephew, and even the long-time helper of Subhan called Zafar (Rahul Bose), cannot be of any assistance to poor Tahaan. On his way back home, Tahaan finally encounters a teenage lad Idrees, who convinces him that his efforts would never be sufficient to get Birbal back. Instead, he promises to get Birbal back for a favour. All Tahaan will have to do is carry a package across the mountains on his next journey. Seeing Tahaan`s eagerness, Idrees hands him a grenade. He tells him that when the time is right he will be told what is to be done.
Tahaan sets off on his second journey with Subhan and Zafar, the grenade and package tucked away under Birbal`s saddle. What is the price that Tahaan will have to pay for Birbal? And how far will he go to save his only meaning in life?
Tahaan is now at a crossroad where his ultimate decision would determine his fate… Will he get Birbal back?