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Halkaa review: This quest for a toilet at home feels engineered

Release Date: 15 Jul 2020 / Rated: U / 01hr 55min

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Sonal Pandya

The well-intentioned children's film, directed Nila Madhab Panda, is packaged too neatly.

Living in the slums of Delhi, young Pichku (Tathastu) has a peculiar problem. The little boy, who sorts and collects trash during the day and attends night school, has an issue with being naked and using the train tracks as a toilet. It's understandable that as he grows up, he feels embarrassed about going to the bathroom in the open, but his father Ramesh (Ranvir Shorey), an ornery man who wants to buy a rickshaw, shames him at every opportunity.

Pichku resorts to going to the bathroom in his house and cleaning up afterwards. Thankfully, his understanding and loving mother Shobha (Paoli Dam) works in a makeshift agarbatti (incense sticks) factory all day, so Pichku uses its fragrance to cover up any unpleasant odour.

There's a lot of talk about the toilet and how to go about it in Nila Madhab Panda's Halkaa which may make many squeamish and uncomfortable. Then again, for many, our daily toilet routine is not something we have to think about much, unlike the residents of this Delhi slum. For them, using the outdoors for a toilet is the norm. The scant public toilet, meant for the whole slums, aren't very sanitary. Poor Pichku vomits any time he has to use it.

Although his father is highly unsympathetic, he finds a kindred spirit in the street-smart Gopi (Aryan Preet), a young boy who recently moved into the slum area. Gopi, too, has a problem using the toilet when others are around. Together, they conspire to make their own toilet, which they can use to their heart's content, in privacy.

When the government officials arrive in their slum to begin the process to allow its residents an opportunity to make a toilet in each of their homes, it feels too good to be true for the boys. And as it is, as Shobha warns time and again, Ramesh will only use the money allotted for the toilet towards buying his new rickshaw.

The boys go by a bathroom showroom one day and walk into their dream scenario - toilets everywhere. Striking friendship with the salesman Kapil (Devendra Chaudhary) after a few visits, they decide to purchase a cheap basic commode for their toilet. With plans afoot to make their dream come true, will anything stop these enterprising young boys?

This feel-good social film, arriving a year after Akshay Kumar's Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017), continues with the message it broadcast. Halkaa, supported by the ministry of housing and urban affairs and produced by the Shiv Nadar Foundation, becomes a public service announcement from the government and a lesson on how the privileged also help those less fortunate.

There's a gratuitous detour about a friendship with a rich kid with a golden heart Rohan (Shaurya Bhartiya) who studies at the Shiv Nadar school. He gifts Pichku with a face masks and a perfume bottle after he sees the slum kids picking through trash every day. Is he being kind or just naive?

Actor Kumud Mishra is in a thankless role. As a fake Baba, he shares the same quirks as Pichku and Gopi, and becomes an honorary member of the 'I-Want-To-Build-A-Toilet' gang.

Young actor Tathastu is the saving grace of the film. His innocence is endearing. While Shorey does a good job with what's given to him of his role, written by Panda and co-writer Nitin Dixit, his pairing with Paoli Dam is mismatched. For someone who lives in a slum, Dam's nails are always perfectly manicured.

At nearly two hours, the film includes songs at inappropriate moments, making them seem entirely unnecessary. The film could have worked without them too.

The film's screenplay is all over the place; plot introduces conflicts and solves them within five minutes. The heart of Halkaa is in the right place, but the film's outright packaging feels a bit pandering and more like a government message which glosses over the real, nitty-gritty details.

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