Most "mass" movies are so slave to formula that the question while making one isn't "What do I make?" as much as "How do I make the same thing look at least a bit different?" How do I make the slo-mo hero-introduction shot look different? How do I make the hero-heroine meet-cute look different? How do I make the duet look different? How do I make the villain and the conflict he brings with him look different? It's a very real problem. The audience wants the formula, so you can't entirely rehaul the must-haves. But they also want you to rehaul the must-haves to a degree, so that they don't feel they are watching the same old… formula. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't.
In Girmit, Ravi Basrur comes up with an inspired solution. The film is 100 percent formula. But the actors are all children. Imagine Anjani Puthra with a 10-year-old in the Puneet Rajkumar role, an 8-year old in the Rashmika Mandanna role, a 12-year-old in the Ramya Krishnan role…
But this is not like CS Amudhan's Tamizh Padam, where the film was itself a spoof, and the actors played their parts with their eyes wide open — they knew they were in a spoof, and their performances spoofed the must-haves of the traditional big-star movie. The child actors, here, play it dead-serious, as though they were really adults. (And they are dubbed by stars like Yash, Radhika Pandit, Sudha Belawadi, Rangayana Raghu, Achyuth Kumar, and Tara.) The film is dead-serious, too — but because the actors are all children, there's also the sense of the film winking at us. It's the Flipkart advertisement ethos, expanded to feature length.
The first time we see a kid with a glued-on moustache playing an auto driver (his feet barely reach the brake) or note that the teeny-tiny "heroine" (Shlagha Saligrama) could be folded and tucked away into a shoebox, we smile the smile we smile when looking at puppy videos on Facebook. But you can't keep going "awww, cho chweet" for two hours. That's where the screenplay (credited to Pramod Maravante, Kinnal Raj, Sandeep Sirsi, Suchan Shetty, B Manjunath) kicks in, sprinkling "mass" flavours on a story similar to that of the Srinath-Manjula comedy-drama Aliya Devaru: a "man" (Ashlesh Raj) falls for a "woman", but in order to marry her, he first has to find grooms for her sisters.
The conceit is so clever that it keeps you guessing. For instance: Is the "comedy bit" about the woman who speaks broken English just plain dumb — or is it intentionally mocking similarly dumb comic bits from "mass movies"? Is the ceaseless obsession about marriage a regressive trait — or is the film intentionally mocking the conservatism inherent in "mass" movies?
The one-versus-many action scenes bring about a whole new level of meta-ness. You realise why you never get a sense of danger whenever a "mass" hero — I mean, the real, grown-up "mass" hero — faces numerous opponents. These anonymous thugs are so ineffective, even a child can finish them off. The camera moves, the music cues, the sentimental lines like what a father says when he misses his daughter — everything is pure cliché, and mimicked marvellously. Take the kids out, take the sense of humour out of Girmit, and you'd end up with something a top star would instantly say "yes" to, opposite the latest northern-import heroine.
After a while, after you settle into the film's rhythms, it does lose a bit of steam. But the only part that made me wince was when the hero acts like a cheapo-Romeo and pretends he wants to have sex with a woman. It's too adult a development for kids to be enacting, though with the kids these days, one never knows.
Otherwise, Girmit is a fun, easy watch. The dialogues are super-flavourful — almost every line is a dramatic or comic punchline. A man who hesitates to speak up is compared to a serial with ad gaps. A woman who realises her sister is after the man she loves mutters to herself: I made you the Whatsapp admin out of a sense of pity. And now, you are trying to remove me from the group! Top marks to all the child actors. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them grow up to be stars warranting their own "mass" movies.