Some time ago while I sat on the famous Juhu beach of Mumbai, soaking in the setting sun, I heard a thud, and then a whack, from behind me. I turned back and saw that a man had pushed the woman (with him) and was then slapping her. The immediate thought was to run and help her, but before I could do that, he apologised to her. And she forgave him. They had already hugged and made-up before I could act. The thought of why one person endures the pain and humiliation of getting beaten up in public (probably by the beloved) affected me for some time. I had, of course, moved on from the feeling after a while until I watched Shlok Sharma's Haraamkhor (at a special screening by the MAMI Film Club; the film releases on January 13), a similar scene in which transported me to the same thought, yet again.
Haraamkhor is the story of 15-year-old Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi) and her maths teacher Shyam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The two fool around, and at same time, the already-married Shyam is even violent towards Sandhya. But she mostly gives in, taking the slaps in her stride, and he compensates for it by showing her a little affection. You wonder if it's the only way she could fight her loneliness. The film, which showed more than an academic relationship between a teacher and a student, was stalled by the Central Board of Film Certification for quite a few months because, according to it, Haraamkhor gave out a wrong message.
Urban Dictionary defines 'haraamkhor' as a person getting a kick out of doing something he is not supposed to be doing. The title is apt, since the film's characters—both Sandhya and Shyam—do just that.
The most affected are two children, Kamal and Mintu (master Irfan Khan and Mohammad Samad), who study in the same class, along with Sandhya. Kamal, too, has a soft spot for Sandhya. His love is unadulterated—the kind you will expect from a schoolboy. But, his friend, Mintu is smarter. He senses something amiss between Sandhya and Shyam. In their child-like ways, they do everything possible to find out what's going on between their already married teacher and Sandhya. In fact, it's the interplay between the two youngsters that adds a lot of humour to the film, and, at the end, even heartbreak.
The major premise of the film is dark. Sandhya's back-story of being a lonely child abandoned by her mother and mostly neglected by her father (Harish Khanna), who is a cop and spends most time away from the house, adds to the grimness. Director Sharma, however, keeps the film light at interjections with smart writing and execution. While it's shot in Gujarat, and shows a Madhya Pradesh number-plate on a vehicle, it could be a story of any place.
If you are someone who likes a little unusual fare, you won't miss the absence of song-and-dance routine as the film moves forward. Sharma's strength lies in the way he deals with his characters, treating each one with utmost care and maturity, especially the child actors.
While the two child actors are a revelation, Nawazuddin (as always) and Shweta, too, give a very convincing performance. Shot on a 16mm camera, cinematographer Sidharth Dewan has done the best he could, in this 90-minute film.
At a time when a larger-than-life film is what a newcomer usually aims to make in order to do well at the box-office, Haraamkhor is fresh and different in many ways. It may not draw in the usual moviegoer looking for an out and out entertainer, but will surely attract those who like real-life films. That the film had to fight a tough legal battle for its release, is a lesson for many to keep persevering if you have faith in your product.
Director: Shlok Sharma
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Shweta Tripathi, Trimala Adhikari, master Irfan Khan, master Mohammad Samad