Baba review: Open your eyes, lend a ear to Deepak Dobriyal’s voiceless avatar

Produced by Sanjay Dutt, first time director Raj R Gupta’s story of deaf and mute parents battling to hold onto to their child is a heartening tale

Rating: 4/5

Deepak Dobriyal (L), Aryan Meghji (C) and Nandita Dhuri (R) in Baba (2019)

By Mayur Lookhar

It’s human tendency to empathise with the deaf and mute, but how many mortals find themselves speechless when they meet the deaf and mute?  So who is the one really disabled?

Baba, first time director Raj R  Gupta’s Marathi film leaves most abled bodies speechless at the end of it.

Seasoned actor Sanjay Dutt is fondly called as Baba in the film industry, but this is no tale on the controversial actor’s life. Baba tells the story of a poor couple Madhav [Deepak Dobriyal] and Anandi [Nandita Dhuri] who are facing a legal battle to prevent their eight -year-old boy Shankar [Aryan Meghji] being taken away from them.

Pallavi [Spruha Joshi], a wealthy Pune woman seeks custody of the boy claiming to his biological mother. To Pallavi, Shankar is actually Rohan who was taken away from her three days after his birth.

The poor couple faces an uphill battle at hand to prevent their child being taken away. Shankar’s no deaf and mute, but having been raised by deaf and mute parents, the boy only communicates through sign language.  Poor he may be, but the disabled Madhav is determined to not lose Shankar. He has just 22 days left to ensure that the boy somehow learns to speak so that he can decide his own fate.

Baba is set in 1990 in rural Maharashtra. First time writer Manish Singh’s endearing story has been adapted into the Marathi screenplay by Bucket List [2018] director Tejas Prabhaa Vijay Deoskar.  [Doeskar himself has a little cameo as the good cop]

A simple story but it’s the engaging, emotionally gripping screenplay, fine performances that make Baba a must watch.  The legal battle aside, Baba asks a pertinent question to the mere mortals, ‘for all your normal abilities, how able are you at interacting with the deaf and mute?” Most privileged beings would spend a lifetime without understanding them.

The ability to speak is common to most normal beings, but Baba reminds you speech is acquired from the sound, the environment that a child is exposed to at an early age. A human interest tale, but Baba is not preachy.

Deoskar pens an emotionally gripping but equally entertaining screenplay too. The humour is derived from its situational comedy. Madhav’s first attempt to enroll the eight-year-old into school boomerangs when the mischievous Shankar places a chameleon onto the local school principal’s palms. Madhav sells some of his belongings to buy a radio, but the poor signal in the house scuppers his dreams. And in his final attempt, Madhav ropes in the services of a madaari in the hope that just as he trained his parrot, the madaari can get his son to speak too. Save for shoving green chilly into poor Shankar’s mouth, the madaari achieves nothing.

The Garwahli [natives of Uttarakhand] Deepak Dobriyal makes his maiden foray into Marathi films. Playing a mute and deaf character meant that actor needn’t speak Marathi. However, Dobriyal justifies his selection with an honest effort.  The mute and deaf, and those familiar with sign languages are best to rate Dobriyal and Nandita Dhuri’s show.

What stands out though is the sincerity, humility and the honour which Dobriyal brings to the table.  Pallavi’s husband Rajan Deshpande [Abhijeet Khandekar] makes a gentle offer to Madhav to let go off the child.  He gently places few thousand rupees in Madhav’s palm. The humble Madhav pulls out a coin from his pocket and gives it along with the thousands that Rajan offered.  Without any voice, Dobriyal and Dhuri have a fine chemistry going between them.

Dobriyal has shone in playing impoverished characters before, Baba though helps the actor showcase his versatility.  One though has to question why didn’t Madhav and Anandi try to teach language to their child before.  Right from the beginning though, the couple have kept a secrecy around Shankar.

Child artist Aryan Meghji is fairly competent with his sign language. The curly hair, mischievous smile make him very adorable. Meghji amuses you when he mumbles the creaky sound emanating from the poor signal of the radio. The usual sound that we hear from the boy is giggles, crying, barking like his dog.  . Looking at Shankar, you wonder if Mowgli really existed, then with his speech deficiency, Shankar would be close to resembling the iconic comic book character.  

Spruha Joshi and Abhijeet Khandekar chip in with competent acts. Jayant Gadekar and Jaywant Wadkar are impressive in their legal duties as public prosecutor Madke and the latter playing the judge.  The one actor who is hilarious is Chittaranjan Giri of the internationally acclaimed Paltadacho Munis [2009] fame.

In Baba, he plays Trambak the stuttering friend of Madhav.  Often Indian films are guilty of stereotyping such characters, largely used to create silly humour. His stuttering is amusing but Trambak is not making a joke of himself.  Madhav initially entrusts Trambak to teach Shankar. Poor Trambak stutters at the first word itself. Earlier,  at the first argument in court, the judge is stunned to find that neither Madhav nor Anandi can speak or hear.  What’s more worrying is that public prosecutor Madke is unable to speak freely due to his troublesome tooth. Trambak is called upon to speak on behalf of Madhav and Anandi, but he stutters at the first instance. It leads to the judge chiding, “Two can’t speak, Madke has a tooth ache, and this man stutters, is this a fish market?,”   The look on Trambak’s face is a sight to behold.  From the four character with speech deficiency, it’s the stammering man that’s perhaps most difficult role to play. Giri though pulls it off with elan.

Simplicity is often an understated virtue and Baba stands out for its simple story telling.  The competent acts help lift this endearing human interest story.  This writer stepped out of the cinema hall, and then stepped into the elevator.  There were four-five young boys in it too. The boys communicated through sign language.   It quickly struck to me that they were deaf and mute teens.  Your ignorant able bodied reviewer couldn’t understand them, but those smiling faces told a happy story.  They don’t need our empathy. We need to make light of our normal abilities, perhaps put in the effort to be able to communicate with them. The first step to learning begins with a great round of applause to Baba.

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