The magic of Naal Part 2 is hidden in the mundane moments of everyday life. These moments are made magical by the power of camera and editing as much is conveyed through looks and glances as through the words articulated. A Silhouette review by Subha Das Mollick.
Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti’s Naal Part II was released on the eve of Diwali, five years after his debut film Naal won the hearts of millions and bagged a couple of National Awards. The cherubic, precocious six-year-old Srinivas Pokale not only bagged the National Award as the best child actor of the year, his screen persona Chaitu was hailed as the latest addition to the list of unforgettable child characters in the history of cinema, along with Apu, his son Kajol, Master Tapu in Shatru, Bruno in Bicycle Thieves, Mohammad in Colour of Paradise and many others.
In Naal, which means umbilical cord in Marathi, we had encountered Chaitu living a happy, carefree life in a village in Maharashtra, embraced by the circle of affection of his loving parents and doting grandmother.
In Naal Part II, Srinivas Pokale, aka Chaitu, is a long-limbed, light-footed pre-teen whose voice has already begun to crack. He is an ace cyclist, an ace cricket player, a troubleshooter of sorts, and sensitive to the emotional vibes around him. The metamorphosis is almost magical and reminds one of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, where we see Ellar Coltrane playing the boy Mason, growing from a six-year-old wide-eyed little boy to an eighteen-year-old young man within two hours and forty-five minutes screen time of the film.
Naal Part II begins with a journey — a journey that had remained incomplete in Naal. On his way to his ancestral village to meet his biological mother, little Chaitu could not board the bus that would take him to his destination. His grandmother died on the way, perhaps out of heat and exhaustion. The father and son had to come back with the lifeless body. Five years later, Chaitu is on the bus with his parents and the bus winds its way through a scenic hilly landscape dotted with waterfalls and lakes. The mist hovering on the hilltops lends an air of mystery to the landscape. Chaitu sticks out his arm from the window of the moving bus to feel the misty fresh air. A woman’s hand pulls back his arm and closes the window. Sudhakar Reddy’s camera moves ahead and captures Chaitu’s face pressed against the window. Chaitu seems impatient to reach his destination. The audience sits in anticipation for the story to unfold.
Chaitu is keen to meet his biological mother. After disembarking from the bus, he learns that his biological father is contesting the Panchayat elections. He pillion rides with his uncle to distribute the election pamphlets in the village, still unaware of the big surprise that awaits him. Chaitu encounters his mother framed against the ornate entrance of her neat little home. Mother and son fix their gazes at each other, transfixed. But it is only for a moment because a teenage boy, who is a special child and a cute little girl of four, running around the house, demand her immediate attention. They are Chaitu’s siblings, about whose existence he was completely unaware.
Chaitu takes an immediate liking for his little sister Chimi. But Chimi refuses to accept or acknowledge anybody other than her Mani Dada as her brother. Chaitu caresses her cheeks and she rubs off the marks of his touch. He offers her a big red flower and she throws it away. The more he faces rejection from Chimi, the more obsessed he grows to win her affection. The next day is the festival of Rakhi and Chaitu is keen that Chimi should tie a rakhi on his wrist. He buys the most expensive rakhi on display at the neighbourhood shop and takes it to Chimi. Chimi takes the rakhi and ties it on Mani Dada.
Chaitu’s yearning to win Chimi’s affection becomes the narrative hook of Naal Part II. A delicate, heart-wrenching love triangle slowly manifests itself, with Chaitu, Chimi and Mani Dada at the three vertices. The rakhi becomes the liet motif, the central point joining the three vertices. The skeleton of the triangle is fleshed out by games of cricket, bicycle rides to the school and back and bedtime stories that bring the siblings together in the dreamworld. If the rakhi is the central point of the film that holds the film together, the bicycle is another object that plays a crucial role in character development. It is a vehicle for bringing out the contrast between the two brothers, a vehicle for uniting the brothers and their little sister and a vehicle for the ultimate coming of age of one of the siblings. The third element that propels the narrative forward is up on the hilltop. There is a mythical, magical dimension to it. It appears in the stories told, in the dreams dreamt, and in the itinerary of the trekkers who have camped in this village.
The world of children, full of tenderness and magic, is set against the harsh world of adults. Here, too, there is sibling rivalry, a dispute over claim to parental property. While the children play a game of cricket that leaves both the brothers frustrated and angry, the adults take recourse to the village Panchayat to resolve their fight over a plot of land. The tension builds up in a masterfully edited parallel cut sequence, leaving both worlds in a messed-up state.
In the end, the journey, begun in a bus, ends in a trek to the mysterious magic land along a rough mountainous terrain. The secret, ambitious, dangerous journey is initiated by a call ‘Dada’ by little Chimi. Her call echoes along the corridors of the school building. Both her brothers react to the call. The triangle comes into sharp focus. In a brilliant confluence of camera, editing and sound design, a magic moment is created on screen. The brothers are united by the call of the sister. Mani responds instinctively. For Chaitu, it is a call of acceptance by his little sister — the call he has been pining for all these days. The pilgrimage to the magic land begins.
The children’s daring adventure brings the whole village up on the mountaintop. The children’s resolve to make their dreams come true has an effect on the tangled world of adults. High up on the mountain, some of the knots seem to get untangled as adults seem to rise above their petty quibbles.
The ultimate triumph comes when Mani rises above his physical shortcomings and carries his sister on his bicycle to help her fulfill her promise. It is a miraculous feat, made possible either by the magic power of the well or by the magic power of his own will. The audience is free to draw their own conclusion, but it is these little miracles that make life worth living and a movie worth watching.
The magic of Naal Part 2 is hidden in the mundane moments of everyday life, like going to school on a bike, a game of carrom indoors and a game of hopscotch outdoors, having simple meals sitting on the floor and nurturing simple dreams in one’s heart. These moments are made magical by the power of camera and editing as much is conveyed through looks and glances as through the words articulated.
Sudhakar Reddy’s directorial skills have elicited subtle emotions from all three child actors. A range of emotions play on the countenance of Srinivas Pokale to express Chaitu’s joys and disappointments, anger and frustration, affection and rejection. Chimi sheds silent tears when Chaitu goes back to his village. Mani’s joy knows no bounds when he cycles back home without falling even once. The love triangle gets resolved when the dreams of both the brothers are fulfilled through the agency of their little sister Chimi.
Naal Part II is not a children’s film in the conventional sense, but children will be as much hooked to the film as adults. The story has emerged from the depth of Sudhakar’s pastoral past and has been nurtured more by his personal insights of child psychology than his film school grooming. Steering clear of high-pitched melodrama, Sudhakar Reddy envelops his audience in a world full of tender moments and potent with magical possibilities. The charm of Naal Part II hovers in the viewer’s mind long after the lights come on.
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