Haraamkhor: A Movie That Stays Close To The Ground
In 1989, A San Fernando High School teacher was charged with three counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old female student. In March 2015, according to a report in The Daily Mail. Kathryn Ronk, 30, a Spanish teacher who was married, was convicted of having sex with 15-year-old student. Ronk originally faced life in prison, but had the charges knocked down to two lesser counts of criminal sexual conduct. She pleaded guilty and was considered eligible for parole in five and a half years.
Back home, The Indian Express (March 11, 2014) reported a case of a Mumbai-based school teacher who not only fell in love with her 16-year-old student, had a physical relationship with him but also eloped with him in January 2014. 39 days later, the boy, reported missing by his parents, was traced to Bangalore and the teacher was arrested and booked for kidnap, wrongful confinement and under certain sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. The teacher was released on a bail bond of Rs.15000 later while the boy in his official statement said that he had gone willingly.
Haraamkhor marks the directorial debut of Shlok Sharma with a radically controversial subject revolving around a physical affair between a school teacher and his student. Shyam Tekchand (Nawzuddin Siddique), a Maths teacher in a small town school and Sandhya (Shweta Tiwari), a 14-year-old student who attends his tutorial classes along with other students begin an affair that slowly spins out of control ending with a dramatic twist that steers clear away from any stereotypical closure like the extremely melodramatic twist that happened in David Dhawan’s Andaz in 1994 that treated the same subject, albeit differently.
There is a parallel layer that involves Kamal (Irfan Khan), a tuition classmate of Sandhya a few years her junior who has a massive crush on Sandhya and is hell-bent on marrying her! But as he has no clue about how to win his heartthrob, he has a friend-philosopher-guide Mintu (Mohd Samad) who is just a boy but claims that he knows the technique of wooing a girl! Sandhya is rightly irritated by the undue attention Kamal gives her in and out of tuition class. At the same time, she hardly cares about the fact that Shyam is a married man and that his wife Sunita (Trimala Adhikari) does not like Sandhya one bit.
These two parallel storylines are strung together effectively with the smooth editorial manoeuvres by Kratika Adhikari and beautifully low-key music composed by Jasneel Royal that makes the film a watch-worthy one.
However, though the main thrust of the narrative is on these parallel plots, the minor sub-plots assume importance. We are given slices of the sad and lonely life of Sandhya whose mother has walked out of the marriage and Raghuvir (Harish Khanna) her father, an alcoholic policeman is not bothered about what is happening to his daughter because he is too busy with his drinking and his own affair, He even brings her to live in his home and slowly, a beautiful bonding evolves between these two very different women as they slowly feel drawn to each other, tied by their sense of loneliness and depression and desperate longing to be loved.
Sharma, whose story the film is based on, has taken great care to create just the right climatic ambience to reflect the inner psychology of the major characters in the film as the seasons change in keeping with the changes in the mindsets of the major characters in the film. Cinematographer (Sidhharth Dewan) has used the right combination of his tools and talents to pan across the wide, arid landscape of the location. It is difficult to believe that the film was shot in 16 days flat and that too, mostly on actual locations in a small village in Gujarat!
The two boys have a rollicking time as they try to investigate into the Shyam-Sandhya relationship and find things they did not always expect to find. One wonderful touch is Mintu hiding Sandhya’s sandals when they step into the tuition class to discover what happens when Sandhya comes out and finds her sandals missing.
Bonding, the lack of it and its delicately fragile existence that can break like into shards of glass if not handled well defines the bottom line of Haraamkhor. And it is this emotional quality present in men, women and children of all ages, gender, class and education that is brought out ideally by the outstanding performance of every single actor in the film.
Haraamkhor was premiered in 15th annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) and Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA). Nawazuddin Siddiqui received the Best Actor award for the film at the New York Indian Film Festival. Siddiqui is already an established actor. The other actors, mainly Shweta Tiwari who plays a 14-year-old when she is really 31, or the two small boys who perhaps, are making their first screen appearance, or Harish Khanna as Sandhya’s father who has no clue about how to express his feelings are all exceptionally good at their portrayals. Shlok has kept their faces stripped completely of make-up and it has worked to the advantage of this film so far as authenticity goes.
Haraamkhor roughly translated in English means “a person who earns his kicks by doing what he is not supposed to be doing.” In popular understanding, the word is used as an abuse in Hindi, This film however, has a different story to narrate and one does not quite get at who really is the haraamkhor in the film – the teenager Sandhya or her teacher Shyam or the two boys who are always doing what they ought not to, or, Sandhya’s father who has little care for his daughter or about what is happening to her life in her loneliness and in his absence – physically and emotionally.
Haraamkhor is no Oscar-bidding film. The independence of the director in this very courageous film is perhaps underwritten by the fact that it is a crowd-funded film jointly funded by 13 people including Anurag Kashyap. But one wishes they had thought of a better title because it could either make people draw the wrong conclusions about the film and keep them away or draw other sections of the audience for all the wrong reasons because of the misleading title and pull them up only to be disappointed. It is a must-watch for parents of growing kids, both male and female.