Feel-good film an antidote for director

Hetal Gada and Krrish Chhabria (both above) play siblings who run away from home in Dhanak.
Hetal Gada and Krrish Chhabria (both above) play siblings who run away from home in Dhanak.PHOTO: DARPAN SINGAPORE

Working on the 2014 drama Lakshmi, about children trafficked into brothels, took its toll on writer- director Nagesh Kukunoor.

"I wanted to remind myself that the world was not such a bad place, that there is some goodness left in it," the 49-year-old film-maker tells The Straits Times in a telephone interview.

He started writing a screenplay, inspired by an image in his head of a blind boy from a small village walking across the desert.

The result is the Hindi-language feel-good film Dhanak, about a sister and brother who run away from a small Rajasthan village in search of the movie star Shah Rukh Khan, whom they believe has the power to restore the boy's eyesight.

The film is screening now at GV VivoCity.

The Mumbai-based artist is passionate about the dry, sandy north-western state of Rajasthan and this is his third film set in the state.

He grew up in the city of Hyderabad, in the south of India.

"I'm just drawn to the Rajasthan landscape. I'm not sure why. The land has such a dramatic, visual quality to it," he says.

In fairy tale-like Dhanak, older girl Pari (Hetal Gada) takes brother Chotu (Krrish Chhabria) on the road and across the sands of the state, during which they meet a range of characters from the saintly to the menacing.

The film was selected for last year's Berlin International Film Festival, where it won a Crystal Bear for Best Children's Film in the Generation KPlus International Jury section.

Among the people the siblings meet on their journey to find the movie star is a criminal gang on the lookout for children to kidnap. It is one moment of darkness in an otherwise sunny story.

Kukunoor says that the element of danger was added so viewers can be reminded of what has been lost.

"When I was growing up, in the 1970s, my sister and I would walk to school by ourselves. Parents trusted that kids would be safe, going out at eight and coming home at five. It was no big deal.

"No one in his right mind would allow that now."

That sense of security is gone, not just in India, but also in major cities around the world, he says.

Kukunoor is not just a fan of Rajasthan's vistas. Pari and Chotu are offered delicacies on the road, from sweets served at weddings to fried snacks found at roadside stalls.

The director wanted to capture, on camera, the flavours of the region. "I am 100 per cent a food freak. It borders on gluttony," he admits.

•Dhanak (PG, 117 minutes, Hindi) is showing at GV VivoCity. Writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor will answer questions from the audience at a screening on Saturday at 6pm. For bookings and schedule, go to gv.com.sg.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Feel-good film an antidote for director'. Print Edition | Subscribe