New Delhi, 28 May 2018 9:00 IST
Actor-director Nanditha Yadav’s children’s feature is a sanitized melodramatic take on the inspiring spirit and talent in the villages of India, despite relentless hardships.
Nanditha Yadav’s Raju is a film with a cascade of messages and ideals for its audience. A commentary on the delay of urban modernity’s progress in villages post-independence, a quick note on the evils of child marriage, a tribute to the idyllic spirit of villages and the innate talent that may be found in it, a condemnation of exploitative landlords, a portrayal of domestic strife and many other themes are rapidly touched upon throughout the course of the film.
The film is named after its titular character, Raju, a young boy with a free spirit, desire for education and is also witty, talented, humanist, and quirky. His father is a dedicated, hard-working farmer (with boils on his feet that are repeatedly highlighted) who wants Raju’s help in farming.
His mother is a dedicated, fierce woman who has great dreams for Raju and is ready to defy her husband for her son's future. His grandmother is old, deaf and mainly present for comic relief in an already light-hearted film. His uncle is a congenial young lad who works at a toy factory. His young sister has been married off to a drunk and is constantly suffering.
The film’s plot takes its flight from the family’s missing ox (Hanuma) without which there can be no farming. There are rumors of a tiger on prowl and the possible danger the ox might be in. There are suspicions that the rich, sleazy landlord may have stolen the ox or set fire to his fields to get the only one-acre land in the village not owned by him. The scenario takes a turn when a progressive and law-abiding forest officer from the city arrives with his son to catch the tiger.
Raju struggles to adjust to the many hardships at home and suffers mild disillusionment about his lower status as a village boy when the forest officer’s son gets preferential treatment from the school teachers and his friends.
The film runs through a series of episodes revolving around the many strands of narrative as it unfolds through Raju’s negotiations with his own childhood and the concerns of the adults that bear upon his own life.
Yadav’s direction is a medley of several mainstream styles and aesthetics, with little to no personalized directorial style. Slightly choppily edited, the film may lose its entertaining quality if one were to focus on the stylistic incongruencies that spring out of Yadav’s inexperience as a director.
The film has a host of songs for pushing the ballot of being an entertaining and light-hearted children’s film. However, the background score can get quite tedious as Yadav often overwhelmingly relies on it to excessively drive home the sentimentalism that her scenes are intended to convey. The aesthetics of the film suffer from such an excess of clichéd stylization and background score that gives a slightly bland flavor of mainstream cinema.
The film works well through the brilliant acting of almost all the characters. The simple and engaging, albeit naïve and excessively plotted, narrative of the film makes for a regular entertaining watch that may inspire and uplift many viewers through a slight aggrandization and acclamation of Indian villages and the treasures of life that inhabit them.
Raju may not be a pathbreaking feature or an artistic achievement for Yadav, but it makes for an engaging, seldom boring watch that adds a renewed local flavor to the narrative clichés about village life.
As a children’s feature, it is a moralistic straight-forward assortment of messages, that may not linger long after the film is over.