New York Indian Film Festival 2012

NYIFF 2012 Review: GATTU Flies High On Hope And Charm
by J Hurtado

The 12th annual New York Indian Film Festival opened on May 23 at the Paris Theater in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.
by J Hurtado, May 22, 2012 10:05 PM

We don't get many feel good films about impoverished orphans these days. The time when Little Orphan Annie could perk us up have gone, and we're more often left with sad bastard films that wrench tears from our bodies mercilessly, rather than the optimism that would probably be more cathartic. Thankfully, Rajan Khosa and the Children's Films Society of India have filled the void with a Gattu, a film brimming with optimism, yet without fear of reality.

Gattu is an orphaned boy around nine years old. He lives with his uncle Anees, for whom he toils tirelessly in a junkyard. Anees is kind of a jerk, and Gattu's life, my all rights, should be quite miserable. However, there is one thing that brightens his spirits, even in the toughest of times, kites. Gattu's kite flying brings him the joy that every child deserves, and yet so few manage in this world of street urchins scraping by and begging for something to eat. When he strikes up a rivalry with a particularly adept flyer, nicknamed Kali, it sends him on a journey to defeat her that ends with unexpected consequences.

Charming doesn't begin to describe Gattu, a film that wears its origins and identity on its sleeve. Director Khosa makes no attempt to romanticize the lives or ambitions of his characters, most of whom are less than model citizens in a society that ignores them at best and persecutes them at worst. Gattu, himself, has already lost his innocence and must deal with the adult world on a daily basis, but he hasn't yet lost his heart, and that's where the film shines. Far from being broken, Gattu nurses his dream of defeating Kali through thick and thin, no matter how many times he is cut down from the sky, he finds a way back up into the air. He never gives up.

One day, after he's lost another bout, some of the other kite enthusiasts mention that the highest terrace in town is at the private school, and is probably the best place to take on Kali in an even match.  In an effort to become the greatest kite-flyer in his village, Gattu sneaks into the school, posing as a student, as a step toward his ultimate victory over the elusive Kali. What he gets in the school, though, it much more than victory over his enemy, and therein lays the film's strength. This is where the hope inherent in every child begins to bloom in this street urchin, for whom every day is a struggle, who nevertheless refuses to become a victim of his circumstance.

Gattu is the rare film that hits just the right notes to appeal to both young and adult audiences. The film never shies away from its reality, but at the same time, it doesn't wallow in the poverty and isolation in which Gattu and his fellow orphans live. The film is real, and while it may seem foreign to even the poorest of Americans, it never feels exploitative or as though it is mining the depths of poverty porn. Gattu is the cinematic equivalent of a hug, and deserves to live among the pantheon of feel-good films from any nation.

Gattu screens at the New York Indian Film Festival on Saturday, May 26th at noon, tickets are available at the NYIFF website linked below.

New York Indian Film Festival
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