Director: Pia Shah

Cast: Viraj Khemani, Gracy Singh, Pravishi Das

A boy uses his imagination to overcome his fears. This isn’t an unusual tagline for a children’s film. But the concept of imagination, and creativity, is easier imagined than created. It is easier written than illustrated. The most vivid kinds of cinema thrive on the dreaminess of oddball characters – the misfits, the outcasts and untapped artists of fragile youngness. But many movies that set out to capture this feeling invariably end up depicting a child’s psychology instead of internalizing it. They count on the viewers to interpret the inherently inventive personality of mental alienation.

Pia Shah’s Waterbaby, a charming short about a bullied boy battling his own hydrophobia, is a rare film that understands the audiovisual language of escapism. Not unlike a Wes Anderson movie or a Taare Zameen Par, Waterbaby, too, views the physicality of the world through its restless protagonist’s eyes. As a result, a seemingly dark journey is presented as an explosion of bright tones, animated colours and joyful palettes. There’s a magical sketchbook, a goldfish and a cartoon show (which the makers actually create), The Adventures of Boy Aqua and Mr. Bubbles, which he hopes to one day identify with. It’s how, you sense, young Melvin sees his surroundings. It’s not how we think he sees them.

Not unlike a Wes Anderson movie or a Taare Zameen Par, Waterbaby, too, views the physicality of the world through its restless protagonist’s eyes

Sunlight cascades off skin, walls and glass bowls, so much so that even the few night scenes have a yellow lamp replicating Melvin’s shimmering energy. The playful background score comes across as an extension of his own exaggerated thoughts. It sounds like a sanitized version of the music his irresponsible dad probably makes for a living – the kind that perhaps his mother, pregnant once again, might have once been fooled by. Everything is an mélange of green and blue – notice how the shades shift from the lime-greens of his personal spaces (his bedroom, classroom, corridors) to the sky-blues of the dreaded pool (Boy Aqua’s attire, his own swimming costume), interspersed between the lively reds of the women (mother, new girl in school) that inspire his transformation. His fluorescent goggles are exactly the filters that Melvin might opt for.

Shah’s choice of Goa, then, as the location of this story is clever – the most popular coastal destination in the country makes for a poetically ironic, and almost mythical, hometown for a kid that fears water. She converts the sleepy town into Melvin’s mindscape – a bubble for a superhero seeking an ocean of release. It’s no surprise that, fifteen minutes later, the tagline ends up reading: A boy becomes his imagination to conquer his fears.

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