Haami, the latest Bengali film from Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee portrays the upper-middleclass and urban Bengali world where children and parents are often at loggerheads due to lack of proper communication. It brings to fore some of the relevant issues that disturb the young minds of today’s children and also their parents. Shoma A Chatterji reviews the film.
Selective perception. This is a dicey phrase so far as language is concerned which also leads to the common understanding that simple words in any language can mean different things to different people. This is where the trouble is rooted in Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s film Haami. When adults talk or do something, they ought not to do the same in front of their children as the children take these in a completely different spirit since they are naive, and innocent. The children are also most of the times uninitiated to the grown-up world of parents who often forget that they are ‘parents’ who need to control and probably prioritise their personal angst and egos.
Haami is a microcosm of the upper middle class and urban Bengali world where children and parents are often at loggerheads due to lack of proper communication. These upmarket parents are ‘trendy’ in a rather coarse way. Particularly the mothers are involved in running a vicarious rat race for their kids who are completely oblivious of the behind-the-scenes politics. But it is the children who become victims of adult rat races and ego hassles while the parents, convinced that they have their children’s welfare in mind, are actually nursing their own one-upmanship in whatever way possible.
The entire story of Haami springs from the varied manifestations of what the word ‘haami’ means. Translated into English, it roughly means ‘an affectionate peck on the cheek.’ This act can happen between any two persons – two children or two adult friends irrespective of their gender or age or cultural differences, parents and children and even lovers or husbands and wives. It is not even close to the meaning of the word ‘kiss’ which is commonly understood to have erotic and sexual connotations. A ‘haami’ is therefore, a gesture of affection demonstrated through a peck on the cheek or even a light kiss on the forehead that means just that – affection. It is frothier than a hug that may have ambiguous connotations.
Set in a posh, co-educational school in Kolkata and focussed on the primary section with little children the film is full of mischief and exudes oodles of fun for the audience within a packed theatre – a rare occurrence in Kolkata these days. The mothers as depicted in it are forever busy exchanging gossip via their WhatsApp connections. They are attired in fashionable clothes although their educational levels are not always of very high class. In this setting we have the main couple, Laltu and Mitali Biswas, who are in a tizzy with complaints from the school about their son Bhutu. Bhutu is an ardent Salman Khan fan and is fat, funny and adorable. When the cute little Chini lands in their class, her parents having shifted from Gurgaon to Kolkata, Bhutu or Bodhisattva and Chini or Tanusruti become the best of friends. But trouble begins soon after and the entire school, teachers, non-teaching staff and parents get sucked into what basically boils down to an innocent peck on the cheek by Bhutu to Chini!
Chini’s parents are very high-brow and snobbish, specially the mother. She struts around like a peacock, nose high up in the air and even has the gumption to suggest psychometric testing for the teachers and other staff to the principal! The mothers of the kids are quite loud and at times their behaviour does not quite fit into the ambience and setting of the school their children are attending. There is an interesting intercutting of one of the mothers running a pickle business just outside the school compound, much to the joy of the other mothers. But the directors did not feel it fit to expand on this at all which had possibilities of becoming a very interesting sub-plot.
The children, on the other hand, are not only hilarious and funny but also very lovable. It is interesting to note that the names of the children are, in keeping with modern Bengali families, extremely tongue-twisting and long. As a result they are reduced to the nicknames their parents have given them. So Bodhisattva becomes Bhutu and Tanusruti becomes Chini! That innocent peck on Chini’s cheek by Bhutu sets the school virtually on fire resulting in Chini’s being packed off to a different section much to her disappointment! They are just ‘best friends’ which they keep on insisting because they do not know any other kind of friendship in school. But their parents have different ideas and take these into the principal’s office who tends to give in a bit too easily to parents’ unreasonable demands.
Three mothers of three children represent three variants of the woman as a harridan whose henpecked husbands lack the guts to keep them in control. One of them is the councillor’s wife and her husband is terrified of her. The acting cast brilliantly keeps the film from going down the drain with too much of preaching and lecturing post-interval. The sub-plot of the little girl and the bus attendant inspired from real life incidents in schools is not really necessary as it takes away from the entertaining mood of the film especially because it turns out to be a red herring, forcing the old attendant to quit. The entire school joining in a chorus song to stop him from going is a bit too much of melodrama.
Shiboprasad and Nandita are known for being able to feel the pulse of the Bengali audience at the right place and right time with the right kind of wholesome family entertainment. They know how to strike exactly where it entertains the most. So, just as they have filled their canvas with children who are only emulating their parents not knowing what will happen and are punished for all this, this is counter-balanced beautifully by the very understanding counsellor enriched by a sparkling performance. Broto and Tiyasha as the two children who romp around merrily while their respective parents are ready to tear each other out in the principal’s cabin, are outstanding discoveries. Churni Ganguly, Gargee Roy Choudury and Konineeca Banerjee as the three harridans are wonderful though they look a bit old for being mothers of such tiny children! Shiboprosad as the dyspeptic furniture shop owner and father of Bhutu is as good as usual. The two mothers fighting tooth and nail and pulling out each other’s hair is a bit too much for our digestive system. Kharaj Mukherjee as the councillor, on the other hand, offers delightful relief in an otherwise overloaded with supposed-to-be-funny script.
The problem with the film lie in that the two directors, unable to carry on with the ‘haami’ theme for long, digress into several lengthy lecturing and a very long and needless Parent Teacher Meeting organized in the school auditorium! A further digression that disturbs the ambience of bonhomie and fun is the sub-plot of the little weeping girl in the school bus as mentioned earlier. Shiboprosad and Nandita could not decide whether to keep dwelling on the psycho-social factors surrounding a peck in the cheek by a little boy who then decides to ‘marry’ his friend so that she is brought back into the same section as his! They found it very difficult to choose between the false molestation incident and the haami or the long lectures between parents and the principal so they blend all these into a khichri!
In the final scenes of the film the counsellor patiently explains Bhutu that marriage means a responsibility which includes making spaghetti for his wife who is very fond of spaghetti! An unhappy Bhutu walks slowly out of the counsellor’s office, turning round just once to ask, “Is making spaghetti mandatory in marriage?” “Yes,” says the counsellor, trying hard to hide her giggles! How wonderful the film would have turned out to be if it had kept the focus confined to the exchanges between and among the children and the wonderful counsellor! But alas! The directors, even in all their other films, cannot resist playing to the gallery and the film, closing with a terrible song-and-dance number on ‘haami’, turns out to be a rather cheap entertainer for the family!
The footage is too long and scenes with too much oratory and preaching needed some serious scissor-work. Anindya’s lyrics and songs, specially the theme song, are really good and in keeping with the mood of the film. Nandita and Shiboprosad are well-known for their over-the-top style and approach. But with the theatres running ‘Housefull’ signs all across the city, no one can, or should really complain!!! Did I say ‘selective perception’? Think about it, you blockbuster directors.
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