Addressing an important ‘under-carpet’ issue, HARAAMKHOR is unarguably a commendable debut in terms of creating an authentic environment and extracting brilliant performances from the well-chosen cast by the writer-director Shlok Sharma.
Not an easy story to tell, its set in a village of North India and revolves around a middle aged teacher, his relationship with a 14-years old girl student and her two other classmates (boys), who actually lead the narration from their individual perspective. Focusing on the group of mischievous school going kids, HARAAMKHOR remains an enjoyable fair in its entire first hour (like a funny children’s film) until a visually disturbing scene comes just before the intermission along with an ‘awareness disclaimer’ prominently written on the screen like the routine ‘smoking warning’.
It slows down post interval due to a predictable story progression but the two kids successfully keep it going, following their suspicious teacher and classmate providing the entertainment factor. Sadly, soon the narrative becomes scattered and a lot is left for the viewer’s own imagination, breaking the much-required connection. Further it all ends in a highly vague and confused manner too leaving you unmoved or perturbed (probably because a lot might have got chopped in the censored version I am not really sure of).
So the film does have its solid merits giving us a promising director, who is extremely confident, has an eye for details and perfectly knows how to deal and get the performances extracted from his gifted cast. It has Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who simply hits the bulls eye once again getting into another sick and twisted character of his career with an amazing ease and Shweta Tripathi, who truly stuns you playing a 14 years old student at the age of 31. The girl makes you believe that she is 14 with the help of her talented director and that is nothing short of a big achievement for sure in terms of an ‘unusual portrayal’.
However, the two actors who actually save the film from becoming a tough watch are the kids Irrfan Khan and Mohammed Samad (in particular), who frankly turn the film into a decently entertaining one through their funny and hilarious acts till the unexpected tragic climax.
Though it also has some deep, meaningful sequences expressing the issues of adolescents and their first encounter with romance, infatuation and sex too in its impressive first half. But even there, it’s the immensely likeable act of these two kids only that keep the ball rolling along with Nawazuddin and Shweta providing the more passionate moments. In straight words, take the two kids out of HARAAMKHOR and it falls flat despite its strong merits of an authentic environment, superior performances and a significant reality based subject.
Having said that, its this hilarious (read comical) and immensely engaging angle of the film only that eventually turns into a highly confused venture, conceived with an eye on both festival and general audience together following a completely flawed vision.
Making it clear, yes the film has a horrific or disgusting subject revealing an ugly social reality existing right amongst us. But at the same time it’s also witty, hilarious and entertaining too for most of its part, largely defying ‘the awareness purpose’ of its plot of child-abuse. As an honest sharing, I couldn’t understand or bear why humour and comedy was used as a tool by the writer-director bringing forward a subject of such alarming importance.
Putting it differently, I would actually like to question that as a viewer…….
Am I supposed to enjoy watching a middle-aged teacher sexually abusing a teenage girl student (doing it again after already being married to another young student of his)?
Am I supposed to laugh while that’s being shown on the screen through the eyes of two peeping toms (the boys) completely forgetting the heinous act?
Should I have a strong feeling of hatred and disgust for the evil teacher well-enacted by the now habitual Nawazuddin Siddiqui?
Yes, ideally there should have been an intense feeling of disgust and hatred felt while watching the film’s second half. But strangely HARAAMKHOR doesn’t let you do so, because of its funny and enjoyable environment maintained throughout the final hour before the abrupt finale.
As a result, the viewer keeps smiling or laughing, watching through the eyes of two spying boys always following their school-tuition teacher and his favourite student. In fact at times it looks like the film itself is enjoying focusing on the ‘mentally sick character’ of Nawaz playing his dirty games.
Therefore, HARAAMKHOR strictly works if you consider it only for the performances extracted and the regional ambience created by the director and his technical team. But it miserably fails when you look at the way it portrays a critical social issue in a questionably entertaining and comic manner, probably trying to satisfy two entirely different kind of audiences. The team rightly chooses a relevant and potential subject that could have resulted in a hard-hitting, thought provoking film lifted by the four terrific performers. But the writing deliberately mixes it with ‘too much’ of deviating humour, largely shifting the viewer’s focus from a distressing social problem.
In short, HARAAMKHOR keeps hanging in the mid and leaves you with absolutely nothing in the end, except the two laughing kids in the mind while walking out of the theater, which is not supposed to be the end-result of a film talking about an innocent, child abuse victim.
Rating : 2 + 1 / 5 (and the additional one is just for Shweta, Irrfan and Mohammad Samad playing the three young classmates.)