Friday, June 10, 2016

Book Review: DHANAK

Title: Dhanak
Author: Nagesh Kukunoor, Anusha Ravishankar
Publisher: Duckbill
Pages: 136

Dhanak (rainbow) is a story of hope in the midst of difficulties. It is a feel-good story about two little orphan kids, Pari and Chotu, and their determination to make happiness for themselves. 

The children live with their Chacha and Chachi. The uncle is loving yet helpless when it comes to show his love in the face of his wife’s disapproval.

Chotu relies on Pari for he is blind, but he isn’t going to be dependent on her forever. He will turn 9 in just 2 months, and Pari has promised him that he will begin to see. But just how will Pari go about fulfilling that promise?

When Pari sees SRK’s poster, urging people to donate their eyes, she is filled with hope. But her letters to SRK are never sent to him. What’s a loving big sister to do, particularly when Chotu’s 9th birthday is just a week away? Learning that SRK is shooting in Jaisalmer, the children run away from home to go meet him and plead for Chotu’s vision.

Along the way they face many adversaries. Other than Chachi, who resents their presence in her home, there is Bhanu Prasad, the bully, and his goon, among others.

As they set out traversing the deserts of Rajasthan in search of SRK, there follow a medley of minor characters: a truck driver, Shamsher and his father, the godman, the policeman, Shira Mata, Mohini, the dancer, Dadisa, Pratap Sharma, Doug, and Badrinath, the funny fat man.

There were so many things I enjoyed about this book and so much I wished could have been better,

What I enjoyed was the bond between the siblings. One can sense the affection between them. He depends on her to smooth his life, and she lives to ease life for him. Together they are each other’s world.

The banter between the kids is refreshingly real and fun, not to mention colourful, particularly when Chotu, the little blind David that he is, dares to take on the Goliath that is Bhanu.

I can only imagine how much more colourful this is going to get in its original rustic Hindi.

I also found Chotu’s character refreshingly childlike and real. Like his screen idol, Salman Khan, he imagines himself sailing though difficult situations armed with his imaginary muscles. Chotu’s hunger is an entity that pushes the plot ahead too.

You can’t help but be touched by the innocence and naivete of these children.

And then there is the 1 Re coin, reminiscent of Sholay’s coin, although it plays no such stellar role here. For these kids, it’s just the means of deciding which of two Bollywood leading mean will make their imaginary screen scenarios come alive. His choice: Salman, hers: SRK.

The style is simple, almost as if somebody were narrating the storyline of a film to a friend.

But there were some things that were a trifle hard to believe. Two kids on the run and nary a villain in sight. There are so many minor characters, and any one of them could have been a menace, but even the few villains that prowl around are cardboard cutouts at best. Neither Pari nor Chotu are required to display any of the pluck and courage that I have no doubt they possess in ample measure.

Gardu Bana is one grownup who treats them well. I wish he’d had a meatier role to play.

With the children leaving, the equation between Chachi and Chacha undergoes an alteration. Chacha speaks up for the children for the first time and Chachi’s customary feeling of negligence seem affected. I would have liked to see a little more of that alteration. Perhaps if her back story had received more attention. A childless woman, Chachi has suffered her own brand of torment at the hands of the world, and she chooses to resolve her issues by lashing out at the children.

I would also have liked to see Chotu get his vision and fight Bhanu Prasad effectively.

These issues apart, Dhanak is a sweet story that sails entirely on the shoulders of the children. We love this story because of the children, and because of what it teaches us.
Along the way, the children learn lessons about magic and about trust, often the hard way.

We, in turn, see through their eyes and learn that the world is full of magic for those willing to see it, that bad things happen, but good things follow, and that it’s difficult to judge people correctly.

(I received a copy of this book from Duckbill.)

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