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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

NTXFF - Jhalki

Jhalki, the lead character of co-directors Brahmanand S. Singh and Tanvi Jain’s film “Jhalki,” lives in a small village in India. A man from the city frequently visits the village. He’s charming and friendly but, as viewers will be quick to notice, there’s something off about him. He tells the villagers about their children, who he has previously taken to the city, offering them money or presents that he claims their kids have sent them. Then, we see one of the parents offering their child to him, telling him that their son needs a job. The boy is young and scrawny, hardly old enough to be working. The man is a human-trafficker, buying the children from the villagers and selling them to warehouses in the city.

While their father is in the hospital, Jhalki’s brother Babu is taken. She follows, hoping to keep him out of harm’s way and bring him home. But, Jhalki is young and naïve and before she knows it, she’s tricked into going to get her brother something to eat. In the blink of an eye, he is gone. Unsure of where she is, or where she came from, Jhalki fearlessly wanders around the city in search of Babu, thwarted in her search by people who refuse to come to her aid.

Singh and Jain weave a tale about a sparrow and a lost grain throughout the movie. In that story, a sparrow accidentally drops a piece of grain into a hollow tree branch then goes around demanding everyone help her recover it so that she can take it home to feed her babies. The constantly repeated parable, obviously meant to represent the film’s lead character and her search for her lost brother, soon grows irritatingly familiar. To add further irritation, the story is offered in fragments. The beginning of the film introduces the first part of the parable but the end isn’t revealed until the film’s final moments. Each time the story is told, Singh and Jain repeat the beginning. Near the movie’s end, it’s revealed that an elephant will come to her aid.

The comparison is quick to grasp yet the sparrow’s story feels frustratingly incompatible with Jhalki’s search. The more the audience hears the sparrow’s story, meant to illustrate how the actions of one can influence others, the more it sounds like the sparrow is just belligerent. Wouldn’t it have been easier for her to find another grain rather than continually pester everyone else to get this tiny morsel out of the tree? The grain and Babu are incomparable. A human life can’t be compared to a bit of food.

That’s not the only problem with “Jhalki.” The actors frequently seem like they are trying too hard, never totally convincing in their performances. While the young girl who plays Jhalki is believable in her portrayal of the character’s forceful veracity, in some scenes it seems like she’s trying hard not to laugh. The adult performers are better but still not satisfactory.

“Jhalki” also has the feel of the direct-to-video output from the 90s. Shot composition is frequently pleasing but the film has a distracting shot on video look. Worst of all is the film’s soundtrack, which gives the movie an overly cheesy after school special vibe. The directors have a compelling and timely story to tell here, it’s just not well executed. “Jhalki” is worth a watch but isn’t a particularly good film.
(Review by Bret Oswald)

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