Mumbai, 09 Jun 2017 12:03 IST
Manika Sharma's film might have a good heart, but loses it completely in the attempt of trying too much simultaneously.
Roald Dahl, that genius of a writer, once said about children's literature "Children's books are harder to write. It's tougher to keep a child interested because a child doesn't have the concentration of an adult." From that standpoint, it is hard to argue in favour of Manika Sharma's surreal The Wishing Tree.
The plot of the film is simple, devastatingly so. A group of oddball children, bullied in school and ignored by their families, find comfort in a mysterious, decaying tree on the outskirts of their town. These children are the usual stereotypes, a young wannabe star who love Shah Rukh Khan, an overweight girl who is bullied by everyone, a dyslexic, frail little boy, and a lower middle class Punjabi kid who wants to be Robinhood. There is also the usual underprivileged kid who works at a dhaba (run by Saurabh Shukla). The miraculous tree becomes a source of solace and the helper of these children, and they for the tree.
The trouble with Sharma's film is that it tries too much and too hard. From dealing with issues for child education, environmental concerns, equality of genders, and bullying, there is too much going on. The film touches on topics like mythology, education, gender equality (Bobby Darling in a sudden cameo), and environmental pollution. The mythos of the wishing tree (which looks a bit like the Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter series) makes it look a bit dated. Although, Amitabh Bachchan's guest appearance as the voice of the tree feels like quite the Easter egg in the film.
There is also the criminal underuse of some talented actors, foremost of which is Shabana Azmi. Playing what we assume is a guardian of nature (the film reveals nothing about her name or character), the actress appears and leaves the film without any connection to the middle. The only interaction she has with a young girl, to whom she reveals the true nature of the wish granting tree.
Vrajesh Hirjee, Makarand Deshpande, Saurabh Shukla and Rajit Kapur (playing a terribly stereotyped Muslim father) are neither hilarious, nor effective in their roles. The screenplay seems to be whimsical, though not whimsical enough to hold your attention. The children are reduced to stereotypes, and fail to make any connect with reality. It leaves them looking like caricatures, unlike the sensitive characters they could have been.
The terribly composed songs are jarring, and take away the little interest the audience might have invested in the story. The only saving grace is a visually spectacular song featured on Azmi that captures the beauty of the Himalayan mountain ranges. In hindsight, the song feels like a late addition to an already delayed film.
Sharma's film had been in the pipeline since 2013, and feels like it should have stayed there.