For a while, Hindi film titles had turned hopelessly drab. Some recent culprits: Shakuntala Devi, Gunjan Saxena, Class of ’83, Sadak 2.
We’re still a fortnight away from Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, in which time one can catch the snackily-called Atkan Chatkan.
Literally, the title refers to a kind of children’s game, but it made me think of everything from Haldiram flavours to naming traditions in northern households. The musicality isn’t surprising. Shiv Hare’s film, streaming on ZEE5, traces a street urchin’s dream to learn and perform music. It is presented by AR Rahman, and composed by percussionist Drums Sivamani.
The protagonist, Guddu, is played by Lydian Nadhaswaram, famed pianist and son of music director Varshan Sathish. The abundance of talent could have turned the film into a showreel — or a sprightly jam session. Thankfully, that’s seldom the case here, with simple narrative beats driving a universal tune. Life is hard on 10-year-old Guddu and his younger sister.
Their father is an out-of-work alcoholic; their mother is absent. Guddu provides for the family by delivering tea on the streets. His heart, however, lies in music. This is a rare film shot in Jhansi, with the city’s Bipin Bihari College dressed up as the ‘Tansen Music Academy’. Guddu aspires to learn music formally, but his meagre means keep him shunned.
Eventually, he gathers other street kids and starts his own band. The film contrasts the harsh realities of child labour with the dreaminess of the gang. Guddu sees a vision of himself in a bus: big smile, clean clothes, shiny guitar. His friends get by by begging on buses. One of them, Chuttan (Sachin Chaudhary), hangs currency notes as dreamcatchers.
The band creates DIY instruments from junk: chimes, drums, xylophones. There’s a buffet of everyday percussive sounds, which are rendered so well that the actual soundtrack — featuring Sonu Nigam, Hariharan and Amitabh Bachchan — fades in comparison. As a musical, Atkan Chatkan sticks strictly to template. A benign principal discovers the band and puts them in a competition.
The role of Spruha Joshi, as an adjunct music teacher, is not hard to predict. It all leads up to a finale that can be seen from miles. Still, this is a fun film to sit through, owing largely to the energetic cast and Shivmani’s zippy percussion. It’s no surprise that two of the best passages play out silently, with just Guddu and his music. Words are an intrusion in his young composer’s mind.