SIFF 2016: Rainbow (Nakesh Kukunoor, 2015)

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Dhanak (English title Rainbow), the latest film from director Nagesh Kukunoor, concerns a pair of siblings traveling the deserts of Rajasthan in order to meet Shah Rukh Khan. The reason is sentimental: older sister Pari (the wonderful Hetal Gadda) wishes to help her blind little brother Chotu (Krrish Chhabria) get his eyesight back. Inspired by a poster in her village that has SRK asking for eye donations, and learning that he’s shooting a film 300 km away, she takes her brother and hits the road.

Kukunoor frames the empty landscapes of Rajasthan capably, emphasizing the narrow roads, the rare tree, and the desert dunes. He gets a lot of mileage out long shots of his characters against the environment and placing them within that context. Still, most of the narrative is given over to the siblings’ encounters with people along the road who, little by little, help them get closer to their goal. Dhanak repeatedly stresses the goodness in most of the characters that the children run into (all of whom seem to know SRK somehow) – truckers go out of their way to take them to the next town, Chotu bonds with a wedding party through song (and his love of sweets), magic seems to be a real thing.

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Real world dangers are summoned and summarily dismissed almost immediately. That type of ugliness seems to have no place in Dhanak. So, yes, this film does verge on treacle at points; the premise practically guarantees it. But there’s real warmth and understanding in the depiction of the sibling relationship. Their little squabbles and differences (he loves the action pictures of Salman Khan, she loves the romances of Shah Rukh Khan), and their inescapable closeness, are depicted lovingly. There’s a moment late in the film where Pari’s eyes start to water that’s practically impossible to resist.

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While the interactions between brother and sister make a lot of the film effective, the filmmaking and characterization are largely by-the-numbers. There’s no sense of surprise, and everything wraps up predictably. The inescapable feeling is one of calculation; everything is predetermined. More damning is the feeling that there’s no sense of personal journey for either Pari or Chotu – things happen to them, they react, and screenwriting guides them along the way. There’s no sense of growth to them. It’s as if all the events and characters in the film slide right off them. Nothing deters the straight-line trajectory of the film’s narrative – even the detours highlighting strange characters have very little effect. In essence, this is the film’s greatest fault: the miracles feel preordained from the start, they’re not earned.

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