innocence. Sensitivity. Gentleness. Friendship. Kindness. Simplicity. These are some of the words that are whirling around in my mind as I sit down to write a review of Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s new Bengali film Haami. The word — fondly used to describe an innocent kiss, a gentle peck on the cheek — lays the foundation of what is easily one of the best films I have watched this year. As I always say in my reviews, it is very difficult to make a simple film, especially in this day and age. Simplicity lies at the very core of Haami. It wafts around in the atmosphere of the film, like a fragrance you cannot walk away from. Do not overcomplicate things, think simple — it is this beautiful message that forms the central premise of the film. And what a marvelous way to pass on that simple message to us viewers!
Haami tells the story of Bhutto, a popular ‘dude’ studying in Class One of a Kolkata private school, and Chini – a girl who joins his class in the middle of the session. Bhutto comes from a middle-class family, his parents own a furniture shop in the city and are doing reasonably well. Chini’s parents are both academicians, and they have recently moved from Delhi to Kolkata. Despite the clear socio-economic differences in the family backgrounds, the two kids instantly hit it off and become dear friends. On Friendship Day, as Chini ties a band on her best friend’s wrist, Bhutu, not finding anything tangible to give her in return, instead gives her what he — in his sheer innocence — thinks is the best gift for her: a peck on her cheek. This simple incident soon spirals out of control, and while the kids themselves do not think anything of it, the overconcerned parents start bickering and grumbling and blowing it out of proportion.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, there is also an unfortunate incident involving a girl child from the same school and an old man who is an attendant in the school bus that she travels in. How the furious parents and the panicking teachers handle the incident is also a subject of the film. Thrown in between all of this confusion are dollops and dollops of rib-tickling humor, all thanks to a brilliant cast that any filmmaker would give an arm and a leg for. Shiboprosad Mukherjee himself plays Bhutu’s businessman father — and he is an absolute treat to watch. His principle in life seems to be simple — do not overcomplicate things, live your life to the fullest. In a brilliantly written scene that is both funny and heart warming at the same time (think about it for a second, of how many scenes in recent years can you say that, really?), Mukherjee is sent for by his erring son’s principal, and he tries to cover for his son by explaining how the boy has inherited all his naughtiness from him, enlisting — in great detail — a number of his own ‘crimes’ from his school days, and finishing off by claiming with great pride that despite all this, he has never been slapped with a rustication. It is a scene that is not only difficult to write, but even more so to execute, and Mukherjee does both with sheer brilliance.
Gargi Rowchoudhury plays Bhutto’s mother, a woman who is a live wire, and fiercely protective of her family. Not one to take an insult, she is fearless in fighting for her rights — even with a couple of blows, should the need arise! It is a beautifully written character, and Rowchoudhury is just perfect for the part. She will be remembered for this role of hers for years to come. Churni Ganguly and Sujan Mukherjee are Chini’s modern, upper middle class, elitist parents, who do not miss a chance to look down upon people outside their class. While Mukherjee’s character is the quieter of the two and is hence relegated to the background for the most part of the film, Ganguly plays the other fierce woman in the story — one whose concern for her daughter comes from a place of deep insecurity and motherly instinct. It’s a big, bad world — she claims — more bad than big, and there’s no safe place for a girl child in it. It is this deep-rooted fear that makes her blind, as she sets out to erase everything from her daughter’s surroundings that even remotely poses a threat to her safety. It would perhaps not be incorrect to say that Ganguly’s character is the most difficult one to play in the entire film. But she pulls it off, and how!
The kids themselves are adorable and funny at the same time. Brata as Bhutto, and Tiyasha as Chini play the film’s central characters, and they are both incredibly talented child actors. Sitting in that dark theatre, I was awestruck to see the comic timing of these two wonder kids, as they play, quarrel and makeup with each other and their other friends — the ‘spy’ of the class Ajatshatru, and the sweet Jhumur. Right from the opening scene of the film, it is the children who form the heart and soul of the film.
Aparajita Adhya is a senior teacher of the school, and the de-facto lieutenant of the school’s strict but caring principal, played by Tanushree Shankar. Leave aside the brilliant casting for both the roles, the performances of these two women need to be seen to be believed. It’s almost as if they merge with their characters, becoming one with them. Adhya, who I am rapidly beginning to consider as perhaps one of the finest female actors working in the industry today, handles each problem with the students with great sensitivity and patience, but one doesn’t miss the glimpse of a stern disciplinarian in her when the situation demands it. That’s the mark of a great actor.
In a show-stealing cameo, drawing the limelight on himself yet again with such grace and effortlessness, it is Kharaj Mukherjee. A rogue city councilor by profession, he is a terror to everyone in town but is himself a henpecked husband at home. Easily one of the best actors of our generation, Mukherjee’s natural acting, immaculate dialogue delivery, priceless expressions and impeccable comic timing will make you guffaw so much, your sides are bound to hurt. Be warned, this is a man who will take control of your artistic sensibilities without so much as batting an eyelid, and you won’t even know it. A valuable asset to every single project he works on, Kharaj Mukherjee continues the legacy that such great Bengali actors as Tulsi Chakraborty, Santosh Dutta, and Rabi Ghosh have left behind.
With such terrific performances and a strong, relevant and important message — all vying for your attention — there’s little you can do while watching a film like Haami really, except to let yourself go where the movie takes you. I have to confess that right from the opening scene, the film had me in its grasp, and it didn’t let go till long after the end credits had finished rolling. It is one of the best cinematic experiences that I have had in the theatres in a long, long time. Drop everything and watch Haami today.
Updated Date: May 23, 2018 08:20 AM