Trust Nagesh Kukunoor’s self-willed shift from engineering to film-making. It was a big leap when he began with Hyderabad Blues (1998) that turned out to be a medium budget film based in Hyderabad with little-known actors that was delightfully entertaining. The on-going journey over the past 18 years have been eventful with each film marking a different journey in different genres – Bollywood Calling, a wonderful spoof that glimpses into the back story of people working in the film industry, Iqbal, Teen Deewarein, Dor, Lakshmi and so on. Not all his films have been panned positively by the critics. Nor have they met with equal commercial success and some of them have flopped too. But this environmental consultant-turned-filmmaker’s zest cannot be dimmed by a few dimming lights here and there.

Dhanak which means ‘rainbow’, currently running in theatres across the country, is his first film dealing with two child protagonists, Pari, a sister and her eight-year-old blind but very naughty brother Chhotu who has the rare gift of singing. The children live in a remote village in Rajasthan with their good-for-nothing uncle and his not-too-kind-hearted wife. Pari who is more mother than sister to Chhotu, is a die-hard fan of superstar Shahrukh Khan. She sees a poster that claims the star will be arriving at Jaisalmer for a shoot and will also be present at an eye-camp. She is determined to take Chhotu to the eye-camp because she is convinced that Shahrukh, who in her eyes, is nothing less than God will certainly fund his eye surgery to revive the vision he lost as a child of four due to negligence and poverty. Chhotu is not impressed because he is enamoured by Salman Khan and often mimics his Dabangg act like a naughty boy.

“An advertisement for a courier company featuring a girl and her blind boy captured my imagination and remained with me though that ad film never got made,” informs Kukunoor. “The idea stayed with me for two years. Then I approached the director of that film whether I could use his idea for a full-fledged feature film. He agreed and I finished the first draft of the script in one month. The subtle message that comes across in my film is that the world is still a good place inhabited by good people whose lives are based on their trust in relationships and in the miraculous power of “God” in any manifestation,” says Kukunoor.

Hetal Shah and Krrish Chhabria who have already debuted on the small screen and are known faces, were zeroed in after hundreds of children were auditioned for the roles of Pari and Chhotu. “They were the most amazing kids to work with. As director, I brought myself to the level of their age-group and that worked very well. They did not throw tantrums like many child stars are prone to. They did not even complain about the terrible heat in Rajasthan where we shot the entire film but I had to take special care so that they did not fall sick during the shoot,” says Kukunoor.

The film is shot entirely in Rajasthan which became a learning experience for the kids and a different work experience in terrible heat for the cast and crew. “Since this is a road movie, we got to go to many places in Rajasthan and had the opportunity of interacting with the locals and learnt a lot about their lives, their food habits, their social practices and so on,” says Hetal.

How did the book written by Anushka Ravishankar come about which was written post-shooting and was released to coincide with the film’s release? This rarely happens in India except in cases like Devdaswhen an English translation of the Sarat Chandra novel came about to time with the release of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. “It was not my idea. The publishers, Duckbill asked me to write a novel based on my story and screenplay for Dhanak. But I had never penned a novel. So I refused. Anushka Ravishankar who has authored more than 30 books comprised of verse, fiction and non-fiction, took on writing the book. She first watched the film, then read my screenplay and turned it into a full-fledged novel. And wonder of wonders, she finished the entire novel in seven days flat! Can you believe it?” asks a happy Kukunoor. The book had a proper release in several metros in India timed exactly to coincide with the release of the film. The book printed like most children’s books in big font and very fluid language, offers a happy read minus jargon or abstractions.

The film has its negative hiccups such as an overly dressed, costumed and orchestrated scene of gypsies in a gypsy camp the kids find themselves in with a blind fortune teller that bodes evil for the kids. This scene stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise smooth-flowing narrative. The god woman, significantly answering to the name of Shiradevi in another religious fair is also an exaggeration that brings down the film by several notches.

The most outstanding feature of Dhanak which means rainbow is Shahrukh Khan. He never appears in the film and yet becomes a strong metaphor for all that Bollywood stands for among people in faraway Rajasthan where the language, culture, costume, music, dress and food habits have no connect with Shahrukh in his Bollywood avtar.. His sole presence is repeated in the form of that torn colour poster Pari carries in her shoulder bag and takes out to show it to others along the journey. She writes a letter to Shahrukh everyday; letters that never get delivered are bunched by the village postmaster and returned clandestinely back to Pari and Chotu’s kindly uncle. Shahrukh is the superstar among villagers who are fooled into parting with their precious earnings just to have a Selfie taken with a doctored tab picture of the star by a conman. Shahrukh is the fantasy figure Pari actually believes has helped Chhotu regain his vision with surgery funded by the star. Shahrukh Khan therefore, is the ‘rainbow’ at the end of the dark tunnel in which Pari and Chhotu have lived all their childhood.

Dhanak is a delightful package of wholesome family entertainment that takes us back to slices of our childhood which offers us that rare glimpse of these two very different children who have had no access to the pleasures of childhood we did.