Tahaan: Disarmingly simple

Santosh Sivan is one of those very few DOP turned directors that are spoken of nowadays. In spite of their box office results, Santosh Sivan’s films always create expectations. It is not often that we see a wide release of his films. And when they do, it is wise to catch them up on the big screen. Watching Tahaan: A Boy With A Grenade, it is inevitable for one to be reminded of his staggering work Theeviravaathi: The Terrorist (1999), for both graze similar and contemporary themes.

Set and shot is the paradisal Indian (!) state of Kashmir, Tahaan (Purav Bhandare) is the story of a young boy of the same name and his friend/donkey Birbal. Situations change for the worse and Tahaan is forced to separate from Birbal. Tahaan is shattered and decides to get back Birbal at any expense. For this, Tahaan travels from one place to another, meeting one character to another and facing one peril to another, in the end being exploited in many ways, much like Birbal himself. Meanwhile, his mute mother (Sarika) is desperately is search for her husband, who went missing three years ago. Though in utter distress, her only hope is a miracle, which seems to be the only way out for all of the valley’s residents. Amidst the echoes of bombs and bullets in the serene valley, Tahaan’s objective, however, remains simple and straightforward – Get Birbal back. Unlike Malli of The Terrorist, Tahaan’s primary aim is utterly disjoint from the state of the affairs of the country.

Made in the same tradition as Iranian gems such as Marooned in Iraq (2002), Turtles Can Fly (2004) and a few others, Tahaan is tightly grounded in the culture of the state and also in the present political turmoil of the region. Unlike many of its Iranian counterparts that enthrall the audience with the sheer simplicity of their plot, Santosh Sivan’s script tries to bring in the larger issues into the picture, but never once changing perspective or taking a stand. Thus, Tahaan strictly remains a story of the titular character, without any pretense.

Few directors in India remain in the same cadre as Sivan when it comes to visual composition. If it was the haunting and dense jungles of coastline Lanka in The Terrorist, it is the vast and white snowy stretches of Kashmir in Tahaan. Sivan’s cinematography effectively uses the widescreen to capture the awe-inspiring peaks of Kashmir in its entirety. The sound design needs a definite mention for its remarkable ear for detail and naturalness with its borderline synchronized sound.

No complaints in the acting department of the film. Anupam Kher is at his easy best and churns out the best performance of the film. All his lines succeed, in spite of being very mediocre and deliberately inserted. Sarika’s self-assuring quietness and her countenance gel well with her character and makes it a very credible effort. Rahul Bose, after a series of debacles, shines as a dimwit in his earthy and lovable role. Purav Bhandare, who plays the title character, does a decent job too.

Like The Terrorist, Sivan goes totally minimalist, in spite of not being under financial constraints this time around. This particularly shows in the film’s near-zero depiction of on-screen violence and its stubbornness against visual extravaganza, reminding us again of its spectacular predecessor.  This not only reminds us that grandness does not necessitate lavishness but also shows how Tahaan is shielded from the trauma of war, which apparently is the need of the hour. However, Tahaan does differ from The Terrorist, unfortunately, for the worse. More verbose and noisier than the former, Tahaan tries hard to elucidate the protagonist’s charm and bring in calculated humour, which could have been made very self-sufficient considering the quality of the material at hand. As a result, Tahaan does not linger in the minds of the viewers permanently and fails to stalk them long after the movie is over.

Though more overtly dramatic and conventional than The Terrorist, Tahaan may, to an extent, serve as a companion piece to it. The Terrorist depicts how the basic human nature is interminable and unalterable be what the external situation whereas Tahaan shows how the innocence of childhood is unduly exploited by (anti) social elements, although it remains untainted by them.