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Until I saw this film, I was unaware of the existence of the Siddis, descendants of African slaves brought to India in Medieval times to work the plantations of India. The film makes it clear that I'm not alone in that many Indians are equally unaware of their existence in their own country. Their economic situation is used to illustrate the objective of the film, to illustrate hunger among children. This worthy objective is frustrated by a confusing plot and badly dubbed dialog and narrative, at least in the English version of the film. The version I saw used voices that didn't have the proper accent for an English speaker from Gujarit State. It sounded like most of the dubbing had been done in downtown Toronto rather than in Bollywood. I don't know why film makers always assume that the audience is too stupid to read subtitles. I prefer subtitles even in a language that I don't understand so we get the true rhythm and expression of the actors. The bargain-basement dubbing further adds to the confusion generated by the plot as the dubbers seem to have used the same flat, expressionless voice for Joseph and Sandhu, the main characters. Without knowing which child is narrating their feelings at the time means that the film only becomes comprehensible at the end. For example, the narrator complains how hungry he is while Joseph is staring at a full and delicious plate of dhal, rice and rotis. We are left wondering why Joseph doesn't eat if he's so hungry. It only becomes clear later that Sandhu is the hungry one and that Joseph is feeling guilty about his plenty.
At least the wonderful Om Puri is allowed to speak in his own voice. He gets star billing as the name actor even though he's not one of the main characters, the boys are. He is perfect as the cook who befriends Joseph, exaggerating his resume to entertain the boy. Pooja Batra doesn't get to speak much but she fills quite well the role of the beautiful schoolmarm that all the young boys lust after.
A good film should always raise a moral dilemma and the dilemma in this film is the ancient question of whether we should punish the thief who steals bread to feed his family. The dilemma is resolved all to happily, much like Joseph's prize-winning essay about alcoholism which ends "I don't know whether it's right to drink alcohol or not. Long Live India!" With only a little more money and tighter writing, this might have been a prize-winning film. As it stands, it is merely an education.
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