Clint movie review: A life filled with colour recounted through a limited palette
Don’t know about you, but I read about him as a kid in Children’s World magazine: Edmund Thomas Clint, a child prodigy who died just short of his seventh birthday, leaving behind about 25,000 paintings and sketches of age-defying maturity and confidence. During his life, tragically curtailed by renal failure, Clint attracted the attention of the media and cultural icons in his home state Kerala and across India, in addition to some experts who wondered whether his parents were passing off the works of an older person as their son's art.
Director Harikumar’s film is about this wonderkid. As the end nears, the boy tells his parents one day: this world has so many colours, there is still so much left to see, and to think that I have to leave before I do. And to think we will never know the full extent of what he had to offer the world. The thought is heart wrenching, especially because by then we have spent nearly two hours watching his imagination run free with his paintbrush on paper.
Oddly enough though, the film itself does not possess a fraction of the colour that Clint filled his life with. Harikumar clearly has his heart in the right place, and a bunch of solid actors to back him, but his direction is bland and the writing limited, bereft of the shading that filled the young artist’s paintings.
And so, for instance, when a journalist comes to interview little Clint for the first time, and the chap turns out to be an insensitive, pompous ass, what we get is a caricature rather than a believably sketched individual. No doubt there are plenty of such journalists around, but this one is presented in deliberately exaggerated fashion for effect, and over-acted by Salim Kumar, even given a limp like old-school villains, such that I was surprised they did not also bestow on him an eye patch or a hook in place of an arm. Likewise, a barber who is called in to shave Clint’s head is a large, intimidating fellow with a scary face and the disconcerting habit of spewing paan thhook (spit) on garden plants. We know that Clint hates anyone touching his hair, but did Harikumar have to be literal in his representation of the child’s fears?
Clint’s existential musings and innocent questions are as fascinating as children's conversations usually are, though perhaps more acutely observed. Where do we go when we die? If I die and become a star in the sky, how will you distinguish me from the other stars? What is the mind? Can you tell me what it looks like so that I can paint it? Kids, as the American country song goes, say the darnedest things. The boy’s baby talk is endearing and reminded me of that old toothpaste ad on Indian television in which a father asks his tiny daughter to cover her toothbrush with “ aadha brush toothpaste” (a half-brush full of toothpaste) to which she replies, “ Daddy, aadha kya hai?” (Dad, what’s half?)
What the film needed perhaps, was more of that. Because it dips each time it shifts away from Clint's chatter.
The dull narrative suffers further because of poor production quality and amateurish cinematography. The frames are exasperatingly unprofessional - I say exasperating because the subject is begging to be turned into a good film and the setting is begging to be well shot. Clint's home sits in the lap of nature and the camera team's failure to fully exploit its potential is a constant reminder of the averageness of this film.
The SFX work too is of a low standard, right from those so obviously fake kites flying in the sky in the opening frame. That shot is no doubt designed for a watercolour effect, but it just does not work. What does work later in the film though is a song in which Clint and his Mom walk in and out of settings that metamorphose from paintings to real life and back, with the paintings ranging from impressionist works to more realistic styles. This is the only passage in the film in which Harikumar shows some imagination.
Master Alok is sweet and has a charmingly staid way of delivering dialogues steeped in child-like wisdom. His diction too is impressive for one so young. Little Akshara Kishor playing Clint's friend Ammu is a darling as usual, though the insinuation of a potential romance between them if he had lived is silly, to say the least.
The rest of the cast is effective enough, but Rima Kallingal stands out for trying her best but being too good for this film. So much could have been discussed during the course of the story: the meaning of mortality, the question of what constitutes art, who decides what art is and so on. Let us be clear: Clint does have some interesting portions, but just some. At the end of the day, it is an ordinary account of what was, from so many accounts, an extraordinary life.