Childhood, to me, has always meant freedom and fun, learning and loving … In that, whenever I have thought of childhood that gets swaddled in the form of child labor, working long hours and being deprived of love, care, affection, understanding, freedom and so on, I feel pained and am stirred with a sense of doing something to undo the entire system that perpetuates these sinister practices.
Different people have to do different things, in their own way. My part of the equation, I felt was to create an awareness by making a film that stirs you up and makes you take a stand in no uncertain way. Which is why this film, Jhalki… a moving tale of lost childhood, with an impactful child labour and human trafficking backdrop.
The journey has not been easy, neither has been the choice to stick to the original vision, not dilute it or get busy with feature projects that are lucrative and more mainstream and easier to take off, with big stars and big banners. There’s a pleasure in sticking to your vision and achieving the results you have set out to do. So, through countless ups and downs of all kinds, we are here now with the film, which will hopefully move people as much as it did to us in the process of creating it.
Jhalki is a heart-rending but inspiring story of the search of a nine-year old street-smart girl in search of her seven-year old brother, both caught in the vortex of bonded child-labor. Armed with an intimate folk story of a tireless sparrow and her own ingenious efforts, her charming ability to think on feet and presence of mind, Jhalki manages her search and eventually to free her brother, along with thousands of other bonded children caught in this insidious practice affecting over 200 million children worldwide and 60 million in India itself.
The film which has two children at its heart and finds support from other key people playing various roles … Boman Irani (playing Kailash Satyarthi, who was honoured with the Nobel Peace in 2014 for rescuing over 85,000 children from child slavery), Govind Namdeo, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Sanjay Suri, Divya Dutta, Akhilendra Mishra, Bachan Pachera and Joy Sengupta … and two terrific child actors, Aarti Jha and Goraksha Sakpal … new but brilliant finds.
Visually, it aims to explore the earthy colors and feel, grounded in reality as the predominant colour palette. This, however, is mixed, in a very balancing way, with some surrealistic sequences as well as flights of fancy that explores a child’s perception of reality. Performances and a combination of urgency and pace coupled with moments of stay and stillness enhances the sense of overall poetry of the narrative.
Sound Design plays a big part in the structural and emotional journey of the film. The raw and pure rural sounds (of mills and pumps and machines and traffic that fill the air as much as those of the birds and animals) mixed at right places with effects attempts to create a complete hypnotic involvement. And to add to it all, its powerful background score in combination with the soulful songs, all play a huge part in the overall experience of the film.