Berlin Diary: Nagesh Kukunoor's 'Dhanak' wins big at Berlin Film Festival
Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak (Rainbow) has won the Grand Prix for Best Feature, given by the International Jury in the Generation KPlus section for children, as well as a Special Mention of the Children’s Jury in the same section, at the Berlin Film Festival. “I am absolutely thrilled! We made it,” said Nagesh Kukunoor. Directed and written by Kukunoor, Dhanak is a fable-like story of a young girl in Rajasthan, who is determined to have vision restored to her blind brother before his ninth birthday.
“This dynamically-directed film delivers joy and heartbreak in equal measure - the young brother and sister at its heart and the unbreakable love between them is irresistible… Filled with colour, magic, music, spontaneity and a plenty of emotion, this film lives up to its name and delivers a celebration of life to savor long after the end credits roll!” read the statement of the International Jury. Dhanak, produced by Manish Mundra, also won prize money of 7,500 euros that comes with the Grand Prix.
“I couldn’t believe it even when we were selected for Berlin. I was running around in my apartment screaming,” said Kukunoor, of the triumph of his 14th film since Hyderabad Blues. He was on the red carpet at the Berlin Film Festival, along with his producer Manish Mundra, co-producer Elahe Hiptoola, sound designer Vipin Bhati and music composer Tapas Relia.
“Actually when I met producer Manish Mundra, I went to pitch a film about a boxer," Kukunoor recalled.
"In passing, I also mentioned a small, sweet film - as a filler - about a brother and sister set in Rajasthan, and he said let’s do this one.” Mundra grew up in Jodhpur and for Kukunoor too, it is the third film in his ‘Rajasthan trilogy’, after Dor and Yeh Honsla. “I am repeatedly drawn to Rajasthan because I’m fascinated by how small and insignificant humans become in vast open spaces,” said the director. “The moment I had this image of a brother and sister against the desert landscape, I rushed to my computer and wrote the script right away. I couldn’t stop.”
Dhanak also conveys a message: “I wanted to say that life is good and there are good people too,” Kukunoor said. “When I was growing up in Hyderabad, you could trust people. You could go over to a stranger’s house and they would be kind to you. With Dhanak, I’m kind of returning to my childhood and a kinder world.”
Kukunoor’s work reveals a lively keenness to experiment with genres and subjects, varying wildly from homegrown romance Hyderabad Blues to thrillers Teen Deewarein and 8x10 Tasveer, inspirational drama Iqbal, to now Dhanak, a children’s film. “I get easily bored as a filmmaker, and want to do something different each time," said Kukoonor. "Despite Dhanak, if I do a second children’s film, I’ll want to shoot myself in the head. If the audience knows what to expect from me - an “NK film” (Nagesh Kukunoor) - I will be gasping in panic. The process of filmmaking is what I live for, and the day the print comes out, my fun ends.”
One of the revelations of Dhanak is how confidently its young blind protagonist moves, unlike the cane-tapping, champion hobblers of Bollywood. Kukunoor says he knew he wanted to make it as a road movie, so he needed to know “how the kid moves." Kukunoor said, "I’m extremely impatient and immediately asked my assistant director Ranjeet Jha to bring me phone camera footage of blind children. He followed some blind kids in the slums of Ghatkopar. The blind kids moved so fast and confidently, not stumbling or even touching walls, I said, ‘Wow, what the hell is this?’ The characters, featuring Krrish Chhabria and Hetal Gada, were worked out accordingly.”
For the success of Dhanak, Kukunoor duly credits co-producer Elahe Hiptoola: “Elahe is always invaluable. I had hired her as an actress two days before we shot Hyderabad Blues, but her skills were so good, she was Assistant Director on Hyderabad Blues, and then we formed SIC Productions, and she has been my Creative Producer since. She totally gets my back, above and beyond the call of duty.”
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist.Meenakshishedde@gmail.com