Mumbai, 28 Sep 2019 19:00 IST
Co-directed by Brahmanand Siingh and Tanvi Jain, the film shows us the emotional and physical toll on two young siblings caught in a child slavery ring.
Before the screening of Jhalki, filmmaker Brahmanand Siingh narrated a short moralistic children's tale about a mousetrap on a farm. When the resident mouse shares his fears with other residents on the farm, the cow, the goat and the chicken, they basically tell the mouse it's his problem. A snake gets caught in the trap and when the farmer's wife goes to investigate, she is bitten and the chicken is killed to help her get better.
Sadly, she does not survive. As mourners arrive in numbers to pay their respects, the goat and the cow are also sacrificed to feed them. The moral of the story: you may think it's not your problem, but what happens in the world around you affects everyone and everything in it, including you.
Brahmanand Siingh and co-director Tanvi Jain attempt to show that the perils of child slavery and trafficking are not so far off as we tend to think. And by ignoring it around us, we are doing more harm than good. In their film, Jhalki, a protective older sister, focuses herself singlehandedly to rescue her brother Babu after he is sold to the unscrupulous Ramprasad (Govind Namdev) to help pay for their father's medical bills.
The nine-year-old has always been wiser than her years. She ties herself each night to her younger brother, who sleepwalks, and looks out for him as best she can. But an accident forces them in the hands of the wily Ramprasad who arrives at their village often to take the children, mostly boys, and sell them into hard labour.
Jhalki pursues Babu but in a moment of vulnerablity he is whisked away and sold by Ramprasad. From there on, every moment of her life, separated from her parents, is devoted to tracking down Babu. It's an uphill task in an unknown city.
The story, by Prakash Jha and Brahmanand Siingh, is interwoven with an old folk tale of the tireless sparrow who seeks help retrieving a grain from a bamboo chute. She implores a carpenter, a king, his queen, a snake, a stick, fire, the sea and an elephant in her quest. Eventually, the elephant decides to help, setting off a chain reaction of sorts that leads to the sparrow getting her grain.
This folk tale is told inventively through shadow animation in sequences. Jhalki's quest runs in parallel with the folk tale. She comes across adults unwilling to get involved and risk their neck for a slip of a girl. These include Sanjay Suri's district collector (the king, according to Jhalki) and his wife, Divya Dutta (the queen).
The nexus of child trafficking in different industries (here, it's carpet weaving) of Mirzapur is large and powerful. Jhalki's paths cross with Raheem chacha, a rickshaw puller, and Priti, a journalist, who attempt to help her. But eventually it is Boman Irani's Kailash Satyarthi who becomes the elephant to Jhalki's sparrow.
Aarti Jha as Jhalki completely takes over the film. She and Goraksha Sakpal, who plays Babu, create a wonderful, real bond as siblings. The hot-tempered Jhalki, who sees life in black and white, often tells it like it is, much to the dismay of the adults around her, who think only of themselves. Most of the adult artistes in the film, with the exception of Irani's compassionate Satyarthi, take a backseat to her arc.
Though we know it is coming, the matter-of-fact reality of child trafficking is hard to digest but necessary to show. There is even an instance of sexual abuse which isn't properly addressed in the film. Like this, there are several strands left hanging in the film. Jhalki's sisterly determination and love are the guiding force, but there are times when the pace of the film flags as she goes from pillar to post. Like the tireless sparrow, there is much that little Jhalki must endure before she gains justice.
Brahmanand Siingh and Tanvi Jain are to be commended for taking a subject as complex as this for their film, but despite their best efforts, there is a feeling of something missing in the final output. Satyarthi speaks to the audience after the film, informing us about his decades of hard work to rescue children tied up in trafficking rings. This interspersed with real footage from his life in the end credits leaves an impact.
Jhalki was screened at the 10th Jagran Film Festival in Mumbai on 26 September. The film is slated for release on 14 November.
Related topicsJagran Film Festival
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