Writer-director Amole Gupte’s forte is working with children. In films like Taare Zameen Par and Stanley Ka Dabba, he presented children in all their heartbreaking vulnerability and complexity. Unlike the usual Bollywood kids, the ones in Amole’s films never seem to be acting. It’s as if they are just being and Amole happened to be around to capture their lives.
Hawaa Hawaai is about a young tea-stall boy in Mumbai who dreams of being a champion skater. Supported by his equally poor friends, he embarks on a mission to make this dream come true. Predictability aside, the bigger problem is the heavy-handed storytelling. Hawaa Hawaai is Amole’s most designed film. By that I mean that the filmmaker is blatantly pushing buttons. The rough-edged innocence of Stanley Ka Dabba is seldom seen. Instead, each point is underscored. So it isn’t enough that Arjun, played by Amole’s talented son Partho, learns to skate simply by watching a teacher training rich children who can afford 25,000-rupee skates. The teacher, Lucky, played by an overwrought Saqib Saleem, must narrate the Eklavya story for us to make sure we make the connection.
The pace of the film is languorous and the sub-plots clumsy, especially a possible romantic angle for Lucky. But what kept me invested is Amole’s trump card — the kids.
Partho, a National Award-winning actor, has a genuine sweetness and a keen intelligence. But what really grabbed my heart were Arjun’s scraggly friends, among them a ragpicker, a garage mechanic and a spectacled skinny worker in an embroidery sweatshop. I would love to see a movie on this gang and what happened to them.
So while Hawaa Hawaai isn’t entirely satisfying, I still recommend that you see it. It is a timely reminder of the intractable horrors that children in this country face on a daily basis.