Director: Rahul Shanklya

Cast: Karan Dave, Anjali Patil

In the 2011 marital crisis comedy, Crazy, Stupid, Love., a pensive pre-teen boy hopelessly falls for his pretty teenage ex-babysitter, who in turn is in complete love with the boy’s forty-something father. The man loses his mind after his wife cheats on him. The girl’s parents lose their heads when they discover her feelings for the almost-divorced man. They react dramatically and sternly, because she is a young adult. But all along, nobody – not even the boy’s schoolmates and the embarrassed girl – greets his passion with more than an eye-rolling giggle.

Nobody takes him seriously. He is, after all, a kid, a “child,” opposite the adults of the film with their complicated adult issues – it’s a tag he hates, but one that is also reflected in the way an audience full of parents and teachers indulgently laugh at his unabashed public proposal in the end. The same crowd might have gasped in shock if the girl had done this for the older man.

Hemu (a fantastic Karan Dave), from Meri Nimmo, in an India eons away from a Hollywood rom-com universe, might have perfectly related to the boy’s frustration and the adults’ condescension. He, too, is a victim of age. It is an odd universality of sorts, across times and cultures – children, no matter how different, will remain children. It falls upon them to embrace this identity, or, as in nine-year-old Hemu’s case, resent it till they can.

From the very first frame of the film, it is clear that Hemu is head over heels in puppy love with his neighbour, also the small town’s unofficial babysitter, Nimmo (a radiant Anjali Patil). It is also clear that everybody knows about it, and much to his chagrin, everybody finds it “cute” and entertaining. In a ‘darker’ movie (read Haraamkhor), he’d have invaded her privacy, broken boundaries and perhaps even be seduced by her. But the makers insist on the playful innocence of this particular world; it’s not a “plot” as much as it is a tidy page in the book of personal evolution.

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Hemu himself might have wanted to be awarded an adult story with an operatic score of strings and mandolins, but he is instead given a Home Alone-ish children’s-film score of mischief and summer. When he finally does reach a resolution in the last shot, we see the treatment switch to ‘adult’ mode: slow-motion strides, Sairat-style music, followed by matter-of-fact silence. He may even be seconds away from being called ‘Hemant’.

You sense, as in so many childhood instances, that Hemu’s feelings have been derived from lofty Bollywood movies – posters of Aashiqui and DDLJ find their way into his close-knit environment. But you also sense that he has “grown” to feel this brand of fondness (“woh waali pyaar”) for her; he is now shy about her bathing or feeding him, and blushes at his mother’s crude reminders of his toilet-training days. “I’m no child,” he utters endlessly, before shooting daggers at anyone who dares to address him by a typically patronizing term of endearment. At one point, down with a fever, Hemu takes pride in the fact that Nimmo has forbidden him from going out to play with his friends. “Nimmo said no,” he grins triumphantly; he likes this control, and not uncannily, mistakes it for greater, grander things. Like so many Indian men, this shows that he, too, interprets the act of caregiving as a symbol of platonic care and mutual companionship – a romantic extension of motherhood.

Hemu is older than his age because his love demands this of him. There are clues of this “maturity” scattered throughout – in the very first scene during a gully cricket match, his friends refuse to let him bat because he “plays too many balls” without scoring runs

His love – Hemu would prefer we call it grown-up “love” and not the casual “crush” or juvenile “infatuation” – is accelerated by the nervous anticipation of her upcoming wedding. Much of the film is spent on portraying instances of his insecurity, stubbornness and unrequited glances towards the only girl he knows. There is a connection, but it’s one that is free of villains and stereotypes; Nimmo gets it, she understands his abandonment issues, and she also gets that it will never be her fault.

It’s sweet, even when it gets repetitive (90 minutes does seem long here), because the makers don’t employ the usual crutches accompanying such themes – there is no ‘third wheel’ in the form of a rudely-shut-down schoolgirl, no showdowns and sub-plots, no judgmental family whispers, and except for the misplaced thread of a roguish local aspiring to be Nimmo’s suitor, the focus is largely on the child and his dream girl.

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At times, it’s natural to hope for an edgier inclination of events, especially when he takes subtle joy in her uncertain future and aims to dethrone his potential competitors. But it’s important to note that Hemu is a perceptively written character; he isn’t your regular boy of cinematically irrational or unpredictable disposition. The grey streaks are incidental. He seems like the kind of boy who, to validate the prematurity of his emotions, has unintentionally embraced the idea of puberty earlier than his peers. He is older than his age because his love demands this of him. There are clues of this “maturity” scattered throughout – in the very first scene during a gully cricket match, his friends refuse to let him bat because he “plays too many balls” without scoring runs.

Very few children, if any, think of the art of batting in terms of time. He is also shown to draw his sister’s high-school science diagrams (a heart, as it turns out) with considerable ease; he is an artist in a village of numbers and traditions. He has an empathetic and independent single mother, which quite explains his angling towards a different generation – and his confusion at the prospect of Nimmo’s arranged marriage. His reactions stem not so much from heartbreak as they do from disappointment; “she’s settling,” he may be thinking, “for a life that’s not hers.” He is angry for not only losing her, but also for losing respect for her. He wears the face of a disillusioned boy breaking free, rather than a sad boy broken freely. 

These little traits are what perhaps set Hemu – and the straight-lined, well-acted film he occupies – slightly apart from the rest. There are simple truths to be found, if one is willing to look beyond the expectations of scandals and storytelling. I’m not saying this is how life is, but this is definitely how Hemu’s life must be. The cheery song (which loosely translates to, “Will this pass, too?”) that he once wanted to sing to lift her spirits during dark phases is destined to become the soundtrack of his own anti-coming-of-age story. This will pass, he senses, and he will go from crazy and stupid and love to just a rash batsman who loves scoring runs. Growing up, as we all know, isn’t all it’s made out to be. 

Rating:   star

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