Mumbai, 12 Jan 2017 12:13 IST
Updated: 27 May 2017 12:48 IST
Shlok Sharma’s directorial debut pits two young friends in the middle of an improper relationship between their classmate and their teacher.
In an unnamed village, schoolteacher Shyam Tekchand (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) holds private tuitions in his home. His students are an interesting mix, the studious girls, the devil-may-care boys and that one weird kid who decides to dress up in a costume. Here, he dresses up as the late 1990s television superhero, Shaktimaan. But underneath all that comedy in the tuition classes, Haraamkhor, written and directed by first-timer Shlok Sharma, is an absorbing story about an illicit affair between a teacher and his impressionable female student Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi).
Sandhya is a quiet, moody teenager, though privileged in the small village in which the story is set. Her father is the local police officer, though he is largely absent from her life. The lonely 15-year-old comes from a broken home (her mother has left the family) and it seems to be the reason why she seeks attention and affection elsewhere, namely with Shyam.
Mixed into this forbidden relationship is Shyam’s wife Sunita (Trimala Adhikari) who constantly suspects her husband’s roving eye and his two aimless students Kamal (Irfan Khan) and Mintu (Mohd Samad). The reticent Kamal fancies himself in love with Sandhya and wants to marry her, while Mintu does his best to clue his buddy in on the ways of love and relationships.
Mintu concludes that something untoward lies between Shyam and Sandhya and eggs on Kamal in his pursuit of his love. The two young boys spy on the duo all the time and plan several opportunities in which Kamal will propose to Sandhya. Little do they know, that their childlike meddling and matchmaking will lead to devastating consequences for all of them.
Haraamkhor first premiered in May 2015 at the 15th annual New York Indian Film Festival and won the Silver Gateway award at the 17th Mumbai International Film Festival’s India Gold section. It has a long road to debut in theatres across the nation after the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused to certify it. It was cleared by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) with a U/A certificate late December. However, there have been certain significant cuts to the film since it was shown at the Mumbai International Film Festival that make the film jarring in many places.
The film’s strength lies in the artists’ performances. Siddiqui shows why he’s one of India’s best actors playing a cad, a teacher who takes advantage of his young charge. He easily moves from comedy in the classroom to menace when he confronts Sandhya about raising suspicions with his wife.
Tripathi made an impact in 2015’s Masaan along with Vicky Kaushal, but Haraamkhor is actually her film debut. Playing a schoolgirl who embarks on an affair with her teacher twice her age, Tripathi is a natural who shows Sandhya’s growing turmoil as the events in her life swiftly go out of control.
Child actors Khan and especially Samad steal the movie with their antics. Samad is all innocence combined with a bit of wiliness as he drags Kamal along his ruinous plans. You can almost forgive Mintu for all his enthusiasm in helping out a friend. But a special mention must be made for Shreya Shah who plays Sandhya’s dad’s girlfriend Nilu, probably the only stable force in Sandhya’s life. Their tenuous bond seems genuine and not forced.
In his debut, director Sharma is a promising filmmaker. Picking up a subject that could easily be from the front page of a national newspaper, Sharma’s screenplay picks up on how easy it is to be caught in emotions and make some wrong choices. He gives Siddiqui’s married schoolteacher a short fuse which lands him down a path of destruction. Like the title seems to suggest, he can’t help himself.
Sandhya, due to her age and circumstances, is deeply susceptible to the actions of the adults in her life. But despite growing up much too fast, her decisions at times show her adolescence. As Nilu wisely remarks to Sandhya, “You and your father have terrible choices.”
Haraamkhor will likely be marked as festival fare but even though the film has its hiccups in places, it merits watching. If not for Siddique and Shweta, then especially for little Samad who will make you smile when the situation gets too grim.
Reviewed by Sonal Pandya