Children’s films in India don’t seem to believe much in experimenting; they work within a prescribed format with certain compulsory elements like an orphaned child who is made to work hard by a cruel uncle, the child’s quest for education and a moral at the end of the story. Films like Vishal Bhardwaj’s Makdee, Santosh Sivan’s Halo and Ajay Kartik’s Karamati Coat, two of which were produced by the CFSI, evoke nostalgia about a bygone era when children’s films explored the realm of fantasy and took one on an adventurous and emotional ride with the protagonist. The stories of an old witch who turned humans into animals, a miraculous street dog and a magical coat were so much more charming in contrast to the ‘real’ stories of today.
Nevertheless children’s films deserve some concession; after all there are so few of them getting made and even fewer finding their way to the theatres.
Although Gattu works around the regular elements of children’s stories, it turns out to be an endearing tale of a little boy who is passionate about flying kites. The message is put across rather subtly and there is undeniable novelty to see kites flying in the sky, a small town obsession that is rarely explored in films. It has been endowed with a fablesque quality: a black kite called ‘kali’ that soars in the sky is invincible. The entire town of Roorkee, ignorant of who flies the black kite, has failed to bring it down. Gattu, the ardent kite-flyer has taken up the challenge to defeat ‘kali’. In order to do so, he needs to climb up the highest terrace of the town which belongs to a school.
The film succeeds in creating the carefree world of a mischievous little boy who gets away with his little tricks on adults to follow his heart. It feels a little contrived in the beginning with Gattu’s uncle mouthing heavy dialogues but soon begins to flow smoothly as one is immersed in Gattu’s world. Gattu is not an ideal child to begin with–he steals and lies for kites–but is eventually transformed into one. He is smart and happy-go-lucky; an interesting character to follow who hardly evokes any pity.
The freshness of the film lies in ridding Gattu of unnecessary naiveté and not presenting him as an innocent victim of circumstances. He is, in fact, like any street child more shrewd than other children of his age; in that he uses his weaknesses to his advantage. That said, beneath his precocious worldliness is hidden a child who wants to have friends and is excited at the prospect of learning why an apple falls to the ground while the moon doesn’t. Mohammad Samad who plays Gattu is adorable and puts in just the right proportion of acting.
There are some magical moments in the film when Gattu’s kite fights with ‘kali’ enriched with peppy background score. The kites flying in the sky have been shot spectacularly, sometimes even giving us a feel of the non-descript small town from the point of view of the kites. Gattu is a sweet, feel good tale, worthy of a watch.