Cast: Swara Bhaskar, Ria Shukla, Sanjay Suri, Ratna Patak Shah, Panjaj Tripathi
Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Rating: * * * ½
Runtime: 96 mins
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s debut effort as director is distinctive, distinguished and classy. To add to that there’s strong social message woven into the eloquent narrative which adds strength and power to the viewing experience.
The moniker sounds intriguing enough. Given the fact that most people would be quite clueless about it’s meaning the narrative sets out to reveal, at the outset itself. The title is a metaphor for ‘a dunce’- the colloquial meaning of it is let out within the opening few minutes . Set in Agra, the narrative unveils the struggles and rigors of small time life, especially true for a single mother Chanda (Swara Bhaskar) and her feisty, rebellious teenage daughter Apeksha/ Lali (Ria Shukla).
Living in a jhuggi on the outskirts of Agra, the young mother is all about town, juggling three jobs, striving to cough up enough earnings to manage their living expenses as well as set aside something for Lali’s further studies. Given their poor status, Lali is resigned to her fate -following in her mother’s footsteps. Also, her being a dunce at mathematics just about ensures that she won’t be able to clear class Xth. But Chanda is not one to easily give up on expectations for her daughter’s future. Her compassionate and concerned employer, a retired Doctor (Ratna Pathak Shah) orchestrates a plan-of-action to get Lali motivated enough to perform well in her pre-boards. But for that Chanda has to go back to school, enroll as a student in the Xth standard and throw up enough curved balls along the way, so that Lali gets fired-up enough to outperform her mother at the exams.
It’s a simplistic rendering of a complex issue no doubt but it has been done with so much heart and soul that no one will want to find fault with it. The importance of Education and it’s singular place in the upliftment of the poor appears to be the primary force guiding this elegant production. There’s poignancy, emotional heft, intelligence and cutting edge craft on display here. The performances by all the actors, and especially so for Swara Bhaskar, Ria Shukla, Ratna Pathak Shah and Pankaj Tripathi as the Principal who gets cornered into admitting an overage student into the Xth std, are superb. Tripathi’s comedic touch lightens the heavy-duty atmosphere built up by Chanda and Lali’s clash of ideals. Ratna Pathak Shah, lends nobility and grace to the character she assays while Swara Bhaskar and Ria Shukla, who play the mother-daughter duo, uphold a rare chemistry that distinguishes the mother-daughter relationship, taking it to a level that’s unheard of in a Bollywood film. Gavemic U Ary’s camerawork makes the ensuing drama a gritty, realistic experience.
There are no flashy moments, no cut-aways to scenic splendors – just everyday, routine visuals made classy because they lend contextual vividity and texture to moods and moments enshrined within. The editing, background score and production values are also first rate. Ashwiny, an advertising professional, had assisted her husband Nitesh Tiwari on ‘Chillar Party’ and ‘Bhoothnath Returns.’ She also has a nine minute short ‘Whats for Breakfast?’ in her credit list. This film proves that she is a talent to be reckoned with. The simplicity and eloquence with which she has managed to tackle a serious and dry subject sets her up as prodigious and imminently worthy. And never mind the title, this film is bound to achieve cent per cent results!