Jhalki review: #IamwithJhalki in the battle against child labour

But a dreary screenplay and a nervy show by its little protagonists hamper Brahmanand S Siingh’s maiden feature

Rating: 2.5 /5

By Mayur Lookhar

Jhalki (2019)

Children are the future of any nation. How often do we hear this, but is there enough conversation on their present?

India with its large rural population, always presents a tough environment for poor kids.  The biggest threat to a rural kid is child labour, human trafficking. As per the 2011 census data, there were about 10.3 million child labourers between 5-14 years.  The International Labour Organisation 2016 data showed 23.8 million working children in India, all between 5-17 years.

Largely consumed by their livelihood, urban India has been kind of ignorant to this menace.  Populist cinema caters to escapism, thus films on grave issues are largely confined to documentaries.  Hindi cinema makes very few films on children. Child labour, human trafficking stories are deemed too disturbing for the masses.  The conscience of urban India, rural elites was slightly awakened when social worker Kailash Satyarthi was honoured with Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless work in rescuing children from the clutches of arduous labour, human trafficking.

Filmmaker Brahmanand S Siingh, largely known for his documentaries, makes a feature to draw your attention to the plague of child labour, human trafficking in India. 

Based on true stories, Jhalki is the story of a brave poor Bihari girl who travels hundreds of miles in the hope of rescuing her 7-year-old brother Babu [Goraksh Sakpal].  Poor she may be, but Jhalki [Aarti Jha] is a feisty girl who would move the world to find her brother.  Her journey sees land at the door step of a district collector Sanjay [Sanjay Suri] and his wife Sunita [Divya Dutta] in a Uttar Pradesh town.

Brahmanand S Siingh and story writer Prakash Jha pick a pertinent social issue but the story could have played out better. While there is empathy, concern for the afflicted children and their families, but the rather dull screenplay dampens the spirit.   Siingh’s made a name for himself with gripping documentaries like Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana (2008) and Kaagaz Ki Kasthi (2017).  Presenting a dark subject in an art house style is fraught with risk. So, Siingh tries to tell the human-interest story in a engaging, entertaining way.  

No one likes to see children being exploited on the screen. It is just, too, disturbing and unethical.  However, there’s no fear, no ‘sick in the gut’ feeling in the way child labour is depicted here.  The cold scenes are kept to a bare minimum with Sinngh laying more emphasis on Jhalki’s search efforts.  One is not expecting needless punch dialogues here, but there aren’t too many emotionally gripping scenes.  It’s not the predictable tale, but the meandering screenplay that drags Jhalki down.

Divya Dutta, Govind Namdeo [the trafficker Ram Prasad], Akhilendra Mishra [the evil employer], Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, who plays the journalist Priti, all put up a competent show, but it’s the nervy show by the film’s young protagonists that hampers the film.  Aarti Jha shows glimpses of her natural ability, but is largely unconvincing. Jha and Goraksh Sakpal are facing the camera for the first time. It would be unfair to be critical of them. It’s the director who fails to get the best out of the available talent.

Boman Irani has a brief but a special role. The Made in China [2019] actor does his part with aplomb. We don’t really hear his character name. The social mission is more important than any name.  Kailash Satyarthi would endorse that.

For any good story, a structured screenplay is of utmost importance.  There ought to be fluidity in one sequence to another. Siingh’s screenplay is largely built on a pattern of Jhalki’s search efforts interspersed by the hard ships faced by Babu and other kids in the carpet factory.  The mood and tempo is naturally different in the two sequences.  Jhalki’s search efforts, conversations have a tinge of rustic humour attached to it. But it’s quickly followed by a grim sequence featuring Babu. There’s no natural fluidity in the switching of scenes.  The grim sequences are not long enough to move you. And Siingh doesn’t want you to get carried away by Jhalki’s innocence, dare. The lack of fluidity though doesn’t build engagement for long.  Besides, the rushed writing hurts the climax.  

The film has decent music by Sandesh Shandilya. The culminating track sets the tone, the agenda of the film clearly. Chahe sona chandi becho, par baccho ka bhavishya nahin [Sell gold, silver, but not the future of our children anymore].  The special appearance by Kailash Satyarthi sees the Nobel Laureate call upon the society to be more vigilant, more proactive in tackling the menace of child labour, human trafficking.  The film calls upon all to stand with Jhalki and save many a Babus.  Siingh’s film may have it flaws, but it sends it message across firmly.  Stop child labour. Stop human trafficking.  In principle of fair reviewing, we can’t give this film five stars, but #IamwithJhalki in this long battle to save our children.

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