Adding to Bollywood’s uneven ‘indies’, Haraamkhor has a riveting story. But it doesn’t move or disturb you enough.
The first 15 minutes of Shlok Sharma’s debut Haraamkhor is patchy filmmaking at best. We see windmills, more than once; a drunken cop being escorted home by his underlings; a schoolgirl, Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi), hiding inside her father’s jeep to see what he is up to; a schoolteacher, Shyam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), tutoring kids at his home, where one of them is dressed in a Shaktiman costume; Sandhya, staying over at Shyam’s place one night, tiptoeing to his bedroom to check on him. These scenes are, of course, related, but Haraamkhor doesn’t join them, as much as it slaps one on top of the other, saying little about their presence.
There’s one kind of filmmaking, which, by virtue of the director withholding information from the audience, seems restrained and intriguing. The other kind, emerging from a similar style, feels random and haphazard. Haraamkhor’s initial portion belongs to the latter. This segment of the film is shot and observed with a particularly distant point of view. It isn’t shoddy filmmaking per se, but it does fail to draw you in, make you care or make you a part of the story.
Haraamkhor slowly finds its rhythm, mainly due to two kids, Kamal (Irfan Khan) and Mintu (Mohammad Samad), Shyam’s students, Sandhya’s classmates. The docile and naïve Kamal has fallen for Sandhya. Mintu knows this, but he also knows that he’s young enough to have some fun at his friend’s expense. Mintu is funny, smart and quick-witted. Kamal is everything Mintu is not. For every nutty plan of Mintu, Kamal has a yes, for how is a kid whose heart has taken over his mind supposed to react anyway? Mintu and Kamal share a brilliant chemistry; their parts are well written and they imbue the film – hitherto going through the motions – with much needed humour and consistency.
As a result, the other part of the film — centred on Sandhya and Shyam — frees too. We slowly get to understand Sandhya. Abandoned by her mother at a young age, she craves affection and companionship. But her father, drunk on alcohol and a woman’s love, is hardly around. Like most kids, Sandhya doesn’t know what she’s looking for – a father figure, a friend, a boyfriend? All of these at once and from the same person? We aren’t quite sure, and that’s fine, because after a point the film doesn’t alienate her from us. Her confusion becomes ours and we move along.
But the character that remains difficult to understand is Shyam. Siddiqui’s Shyam is so opaque and closed that it’s nearly impossible to know who he is, what he thinks, what he feels. We, as an audience, aren’t looking for a character summary, but an opening, a peek inside the protagonist’s mind. The rest is about, as is the case with any intelligent film, connecting the dots. But Sharma denies us that opportunity, too. And it’s surprising, because Haraamkhor — a film about the relationship between a 15-year-old girl and a 30-something man — is, at least on the surface, audacious and promising.
Haraamkhor, for instance, is about kids wanting to grow up, too soon, too eagerly — seen in both Kamal and Sandhya’s desire to fall in love. It’s about keeping and unearthing secrets. Several scenes in the film have its characters spying on others, becoming each other’s confidante. It’s about being trapped between childhood and adulthood. At one point, Sandhya and Shyam, after dodging a tricky situation in their lives, are sitting in a restaurant. Shyam is still tensed, but Sandhya can’t care less. She’s smiling a childlike smile, busy eating an ice cream, persuading Shyam to have some of it. Minutes ago, she was in the bus, killing time on a handheld game console. Sandhya’s mind wants her to be an adult but her heart wants her to be a child. These scenes are wonderful, performed with winning innocence by Tripathi, but, unfortunately, they are far and few where the movie opens itself up to a larger meaning.
Haraamkhor is similar to many uneven Hindi ‘indies’. It has a riveting story and interesting ideas, at least on paper. You can talk about it, debate it, discuss it, even write think pieces on it, but it doesn’t add up on screen, doesn’t move or disturb you enough. It’s strange — a film on untrammelled curiosity and illicit desire has few wants of its own.