Hitting just the right note to interest young audiences without condescending, while adding a hopeful note to the aching problem of India’s street kids, the charming, very original Gattu describes how an illiterate boy obsessed with kite-flying sneaks into school to fly his kite from the roof. The cleverness and determination of the hero are amply rewarded in a well-constructed finale by director Rajan Khosa, making a happy return to feature films after his well-received 1997 debut, Dance of the Wind. The film won a special mention from the young people’s jury at Berlin.
The story is set in the town of Roorkee in the Himalayan foothills, where the naughty orphan Gattu (Mohammad Samad) works on odd jobs for his stern uncle Anees Bahi (Naresh Kumar). Keeping Gattu out of school and forcing him to work with angry threats, the uncle comes off as a tyrannical villain, though this judgment is revised by film’s end.
The enterprising little boy is not above lying and stealing to indulge in the town’s favorite sport of kite-flying. Samad’s incredibly serious eyes fix on the drama in the skies, where the mysterious black kite Kali has, for many years, cut the strings of all her rivals to remain the undefeated champion. No one knows who is flying her, but when Kali appears, the boys hurry to let out their string and launch a challenge. Their colorful CGI kites tremble and spin over the humble terraces of Roorkee.
Gattu is smart enough to realize his only chance to beat Kali is to fly his kite from the highest roof in town, which happens to be the school building. Swiping a blue uniform off a clothesline, he bluffs his way into class, even though he can’t read or write. When he is discovered to be an impostor by his friends Minky, Honey Singh and Manuj, he brilliantly claims to be an undercover detective sent to protect the school against a terrorist attack. Together the four of them set the stage for Gattu’s final duel with the black kite.
Produced by the Children’s Film Society of India, the film is admirable in the way it presents poverty, child labor and the ugly side of life within a basically joyous, upbeat story, making it educational without being shocking. The school song, for instance, fervently sung by the principal and children, celebrates India as a paradise, but the director feels no compunction about showing such locations as a junkyard, a garbage dump and a public toilet. Humor is well-used to balance the protag’s serious look as he sets out to fulfill his dreams.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Generation KPlus)
Production companies: Children’s Film Society India, Elephant Eye Productions
Cast: Mohammad Samad, Naresh Kumar
Director: Rajan Khosa
Screenwriters: Ankur Tiwari, K. D. Satyam, Rajan Khosa, Dilip Shukla
Executive producer: Rajan Khosa
Director of photography: Satya Rai Nagpaul
Production designer: Ranjit Singh
Costumes: Shyamalee Sharma
Editor: Antara Lahiri
Music: Sandesh Shandilya
Sales Agent: Children’s Film Society India
No rating, 82 minutes