Director: Manav Kaul
Indian Express Rating:***
Somewhere in the hills, anywhere in the world, at any time, there are two boys walking. They walk with a gait peculiar to mountain kids which says to the world, yes, we are heading to our destination, but that doesn’t have to be a straight line. We can stop, tarry, throw a stone down the slope. We will get there eventually.
Theatre person Manav Kaul’s debut feature ‘Hansa’ captures the essence of how time passes in the those places where you are either climbing up or down, and using your feet, because what you walk on are ‘pagdandis’ (pag = feet, dandi= stick), not motorable roads. So Hansa (Suraj) is usually to be found meandering down these narrow paths with his best pal, passing the time, as time passes them by. Hansa’s father is missing. His sister Cheeku (Trimala), elder by only a few years but as old as the hills in other ways, is trying hard to keep a cool head, as she fends off a lecher’s advances and her grandma’s complicitness. Life is hard. She learns this, as does Hansa.
I was lulled into a reverie as I watched Hansa and pal and sibling go about their lives. Kaul uses faces which feel as if they live in those locations. Except for one (Mishra, who plays the lecherous landlord), I didn’t recognize anyone. That works to the advantage of the film, by making the characters sound authentic. The situations don’t feel grafted : these are not characters who will burst into song any minute. A debt can slowly mount, a man can disappear without apparent reason, a home can be lost, a young girl can be preyed upon. As we go along, some amount of laxness creeps in, some of the ‘acting’ is self-conscious, but the way the film wraps, with a sting in its tail, makes up for it : Kaul isn’t about to please crowds.
The Uttarakhand mountains (some of portions have been shot in Sonapani, the lovely homestay owned and run by Ashish Arora, who has co-produced the film) have a sparse beauty, which rubs off on this film. What ‘Hansa’ tells us is that childhood is not always about fun and games: the stealing of a ‘lucky’ five rupee coin can have life-threatening consequences. And yet, being a child is also about magic. The stolen coin can be `found’. So can a missing parent. Anything is possible. Isn’t it?