'Elizabeth Ekadasi': Goa Film Bazaar Review

Courtesy of Essel Vision
A smart, totally charming kidpic from India

A boy and his sister defend their bike by selling baubles at a fair

Indian cinema has enjoyed good international response to its intelligent children’s films rooted in local customs and traditions, of which Elizabeth Ekadasi is a sparkling example. There is no coyness in this fast-moving drama shot from the p.o.v. of an enterprising young brother and sister who live joyfully even in dire financial straits, until Mom's decision to sell her son’s beloved bicycle to make ends meet forces them to take action. Adding even more color is a Hindu religious holiday that fills the streets with lights, colors and bustle. Opening this year’s International Film Festival of India Panorama and doing brisk theatrical business in Maharashtra, it should have little trouble connecting to foreign audiences and is a shoo-in for kids’ meets.

Written and directed Paresh Mokashi (his first feature Harishchandrachi Factory was India’s Oscar submission in 2009) and co-scripted by Madhugandha Kulkarni, the story remains light-hearted even as it shows the stark reality of living in poverty. In one of the leisurely opening scenes, which set the stage for the action to come, a small boy wails desperately when his father is forced to sell his pet calf at the market. Times are also hard for the family of extroverted little Dnyanesh (Shriranga Mahajan). His mother (Nandita Dhuri) is a young widow who supports her two kids and Grandma (Vanmala Kinikar) by knitting sweaters. When her knitting machine is repossessed, the only way she can get it out of hock is by selling her son’s most precious possession – a snazzy yellow bike hand-crafted by his late father and called Elizabeth Ekadasi. But instead of passively accepting this tragedy, Dnyanesh and his plucky little sister Zendu (Sayali Bhandarkavthekar) secretly take matter into their own hands, with exhilarating results.  

In their pilgrim village of Pandharpur in Maharashtra, a major religious festival is about to take place. Dnyanesh is already famed as a child prodigy preacher, declaiming moral tales in histrionics that holds his audiences rapt. But the pennies he makes with these impromptu performances won’t save Elizabeth. So he and Zendu organize their friends and, against Mom’s explicit orders, set about buying trinkets to sell near the temples. The filmmakers don’t censure their lies and stratagems in the least, but cheer the kids on as they climb madly over rooftops and dash down alleyways trying to keep one step ahead of Mom.

Casting is all-around excellent.  Big-eyed and stocky for his age, Mahajan makes an amusingly self-assured protag, particularly when he recites religious verses and stories. Little Bhandarkavthekar, who somehow recalls Darla of Our Gang, is a charmer with a mind of her own, and the way Zendu and her brother love and understand each other is both funny and touching. Dhuri is wholly believable as their severe mother who practices tough love and cuts her offspring no slack in the final scenes, adding a realistic note to the happy ending.

The film is full of catchy songs and local color. Filming took place during the chaotic feast of Ashadi Ekadasi, which brings more than 500,000 pilgrims pouring into the town of Pandharpur, and that probably explains why the kids’ trinket stall is always shot from one angle. The first counter shot comes 70 minutes into the film and reveals a spectacular view of the crowds and temples.

Production companies: Essel Vision Productions, Mayasabha

Cast:Shriranga Mahajan, Sayali Bhandarkavthekar, Pushkar Lonarkar, Nandita Dhuri, Vanmala Kinikar, Chaitanya Badave, Durgesth Badave-Mahajan, Chaitanya Kulkarni, Ashvini Bhalekar

Director: Paresh Mokashi
Screenwriters: Madhugandha Kulkarni, Paresh Mokashi
Producers:
Nittin Keni, Nikhil Sane, Madhugandha Kulkarni, Paresh Mokashi
Executive producers:
Nishant Roy Bombarde,  Sneha Shrikant, Aakash Pendharkar
Director of photography: Amole Gole
Production designer: Sachin Bhilare

Costume designer: Chaitraili Dongre
Editor: Abhijeet Deshpande
Music: Late, Shri Anand Modak
No rating, 90 minutes

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