“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
Ravi Jadhav’s Balak Palak focuses on the second most important day of a person’s life (as Mark Twain mentions): The day when adolescents come to know why they were born. Yes, this Marathi movie deals with matters of sex, to be precise, with Sex Education. How many of you have heard your parents even utter the word ‘sex’? Needless to say, to discuss this tabooed subject is nearly non-existent amongst Indian households. Thus, our adolescents grow up confused and end up learning the wrong things from the wrong sources.
Set in the 80s/90s Maharashtra (Thane to be precise), Balak Palak is almost entirely told in flashback. Based on a play by the same name, the four adolescent protagonists of the film Avya, Bhagya, Chiu and Dolly are curious about sex like most others their age. A girl who is a sister-figure to them all of a sudden leaves the sprawling chawl they inhabit. She has apparently got pregnant from an illicit relationship, but this fact is hidden from the kids. This arouses their curiosity even more and as none of the elders they know are willing to tell them the reason of her unannounced departure, they finally decide to ask the local school drop-out Vishu about it who tries to explain them the matters of birds and bees in his own(read: wrong) style, which further leads to some hilarious and other complicated situations.
Balak Palak is splashed with quite a few uproarious scenes for most parts of the film. Sample the introduction scene of Vishu; we see him etch the name of his crush (Sampada) on his hand in total filmy ishtyle, but hilariously, he ends up etching the wrong spelling which reads ‘Sanpada’ (a place in Mumbai). Another scene which stays with you is that of the kids watching a pornographic film (better known as a BP film) for the first time. The camera is focused on their awestruck faces and the reactions the children give are priceless. Also, if you have grown up in the 80’s or the early 90’s, you can personally identify yourself with many situations that the characters in the film face. The pre-computer era is perfectly portrayed and it will certainly invoke a feeling of nostalgia. The VCRs, ‘the jolly’ on yours and your friend’s palm, the Blue Films on video cassettes, Bappi Da and all of what you identify with those times is all present in Balak Palak!
The performances of the children were quite crucial to the film and all of them have dealt with their task sincerely. Madan Deodhar, who was also the lead actor in the much acclaimed Vihir, plays the role of the spunky Bhagya who feels attracted to an older girl Neha (Sai Tamhankar), rather convincingly. Others like Prathamesh Parab (Vishu) and Rohit (Avya) have also played their part exceedingly well. Sai Tamhankar is slowly developing a repute for becoming the glam doll of Marathi cinema. Her character in Balak Palak has substance and she is not merely used just as an eye candy.
Yet, it is the ever so impressive Kishore Kadam as Kadam Kaka who steals the show here. Kadam Kaka being the old strict disciplinarian of the chawl decides to figure out what mischief Bhagya and Co. are up to and later also takes the onus upon himself to clear their doubts on sexuality. Quite clearly, the film uses Kadam Kaka’s character to send out a message that the parents and other elders of such adolescent kids are responsible to sit with them and clear their doubts. Here, Ravi Jadhav deserves special kudos as he manages all this without making the film look didactic.
Now, I happened to watch Balak Palak at the recently held Mumbai Film Festival and it did feel a little out-of-place as it is not at all a festival film. Right throughout the film you feel as if the director always has an eye on the Box Office. It seems as if the film is holding itself back, just a bit. A little more depth in the characters would have done the film a world of good. The humour in a scene or two is crass and could have been avoided. This is Vishal-Shekhar’s first Marathi film but the music fails to leave an impression. Some of the songs feel forcefully included. Vishakha Subhedar (Pednekar Kaku) hams right throughout the movie.
So, Balak Palak is not as honest, charming and uncompromised as Shala or as bold as Malena, which it very well could have been. But, Riteish Deshmukh’s first film as a producer is a decent enough film that serves its purpose and will surely win the hearts of children and parents alike.