His name is Arjun Harishchandra Waghmare (Partho Gupte), but the tea stall owner who has employed him calls him Raju. It?s convenient that way, even if undignified. The boy, who should ideally be in school, will now work there 10 hours a day if not more. His mother is fraught with guilt at seeing his blistered hands from the hot tea. But after his father?s death, the options are few.
What keeps Arjun smiling is the skating practice that takes place as the office area where he serves tea is closed. The ground, earlier filled with cars, is transformed magically into a skating rink with giggling, focused children and their much-loved coach.
The coach is a jovial fellow who goes by the name of Lucky (Saqib Saleem). He has his own conflicts going on with his investment banker brother asking him to leave India for good. And just as he finally gives in, he discovers Arjun.
Arjun had fallen in love with skating but could not afford the skates. So his friends (several street kids; each conveniently belonging to a different community), put their minds together, look for material among scrap, and come up with skates that are truly unique ? the 'Hawaa Hawaai'!
?I feel so motivated,? says Lucky when he hears of this incredible story comparing Arjun to Eklavya (the mythological character who learnt the skill of archery just by constructing a statue of his guru). Lucky decides to take Arjun under his wing, and then the kid begins a grueling schedule of 10 hours of work, and then skating practice.
Now there are several glitches here. It?s quite a stretch to believe that Arjun participates in a district level competition with just a couple of months of practice. Then there are the other technical disparities, like most learners begin with elementary skates moving gradually to the heavy-duty ones. That transition is just not shown here.
Writer-director Amole Gupte shows the disparity between the rich and poor through the sport, but he is too severe and judgmental. For example, the rich kid will be shown stepping out of a car, the driver helping him out and maid attending to him, with a burger in hand.
His direct comparison between the two worlds is heart-wrenching, till you realize how manipulative that is. So you have kids going to school versus kids in an embroidery sweat-shop; kids enjoying a fulfilling lunch-box versus kids selling knick-knacks on the road, kids drawing and colouring versus kids working as domestic help.
Now, this disparity is a reality; but this picture is too bleak. One knows of many homes where the house-help?s daughter is studying to become a doctor, kids going to night schools, and older kids learning computers. Then there?s that huge gap that Gupte leaves out? the spawning and multi-layered middle class! Here, you?re just shown the simplistic comparison between the under-privileged and the over-privileged.
The characterization is puzzling. Most adults are shown to be lost and it?s the kids who are clear-headed and mature beyond their age. One wonders how authentic it is to portray kids like that. Another grouse would be the lack of any interesting female characters; the only two being Arjun?s sobbing mother and Lucky?s lover-interest.
Having said that, the journey is still quite interesting. Once the blingy 'Hawaa Hawaai' is on Arjun?s feet, there?s no stopping him. Lucky takes him through the practice and the story builds up to a stunning final race.
Partho Gupte is effortlessly superb as Arjun. He brings the self-assuredness, maturity and goodness of Arjun beautifully. Saqib Saleem is perfectly cast as the always smiling, yet determined coach. As Arjun?s mother, Neha Joshi has been handed a clich?d role, but she does well.
This is formula kid film? the underdog, unfavourable circumstances, a mentor that magically comes in, and the victory. You?ve see it most significantly in Taare Zameen Par, where Gupte was credited as Creative Director; and then in the nuanced Stanley Ka Dabba, directed by Gupte.
This is a black-and-white, predictable film; but still watchable for the incredible child actors, the infallible underdog story, and some warm moments.
Rating: Three stars