Indian cinema has told us stories about the deaf and the mute, and a fine example of this is Gulzar's 1972 Koshish in which Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri (now Bachchan) play a handicapped couple. They have a wonderful life going – at least as wonderful as it could have possibly been – till tragedy strikes them. They lose their child, a loss that can be directly attributed to the couple's inability to hear.
Another example can be the Salman Khan starer Bajrangi Bhaijaan – where we see a girl who refuses to speak till the very end. Ironically, she is neither deaf nor mute.
Raj R Gupta's Baba in Marathi, which was part of the screenings at the ongoing Film Bazaar (organised by the National Film Development Corporation of India and running alongside the International Film Festival of India) in Goa's Panaji, also talks about a deaf-mute couple , Madhav (Deepak Dobriyal) and Aanandi (Nandita Patkar).
A poor couple, their daily struggle to eke out a living gets a silver lining when an acquaintance gives them a new born baby which has been abandoned by the rich family of an unwed mother. Years later and after she gets married to the man of her parents' choice, she begins her search for the child that was taken away from her.
When she finds him – after eight years – she wants to get him back from Madhav and Aanandi, the husband and wife who had nurtured him all along and who has become a joyous part of their otherwise mundane and hard life. The boy does not speak probably because his parents do not. Also, the boy has had a sheltered existence – because of the insecurity his parents had about losing him.
And in a legal battle which his biological mother initiates to get her child back, there are hilarious moments as there are sorrowful interludes. In court, while Madhav and his wife cannot communicate with the public prosecutor, he is also unable to express himself clearly to the magistrate because of a dental problem! What is more, the couple's friend is an awful stammerer, and all this gets the magistrate flustered.
But then Gupta lightens these situations in a way that I found the enormity of the handicap and its repercussions melt away. Not many helmers could have done this.
But the highlight of Baba, produced by Sanjay Dutt (his first Marathi venture), is undoubtedly the eight-year-old boy, played with disarming brilliance by Aaryan Menghji – who literally carries the plot forward to its finale. The climax may not be very original, for it tends to look similar to the one in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. At a little over two hours, Baba may appear stretched and a trifle too emotional at places, but Gupta's ability to infuse his narrative with authenticity shorn of starry frills lifts Baba to a league of films not often seen in Indian cinema.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Film Bazaar)
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