Is there such a thing as inadvertent racism? Just this week, a Bollywood film song came under fire for slighting an American pop star in its lyrics.
In their defense, the makers contented that ‘goriya’ — meaning fair-skinned girl — was so ingrained in our writing traditions that they never weighed it literally.
Turn that logic on its head and you’ve excused years of racial slurring. Should ignorance, which often leads to malice, also be used to justify it?
The question is tenderly posed, if ultimately ignored, in Parambrata Chatterjee’s football comedy Tiki-Taka. Khelechhi (Emona Enabulu) arrives in Kolkata a stereotype: a Senegalese drug mule sent in to deliver a stock.
Things go awfully wrong for the novice 25-year-old. First, the handlers fail to pick him up from the airport.
Then, a chirpy taxi driver, Raju (Parambrata), drops him off at the wrong address. When Khelechhi gets his bearings the next morning, he’s in deep waters.
A local drug lord (Saswata Chatterjee) wants him dead, and he has no money for a return ticket or to pay for his mother’s operation.
If one stereotype lands him in trouble, another comes to his rescue. Raju has the brilliant idea of framing Khelechhi as a football prodigy.
The city is prepping for a crucial youth derby: Khelechhi could be the trump card to settle the game. Club football in Kolkata has long feted dark-skinned players.
It’s a positive bias that has often ignored native talent (Tika-Taka, underneath all the comedy, hints at this, when an opponent player fouls against Khelechhi and spits, ‘Welcome to India.’)
Shot in 2018, the Bengali-language film was originally titled Khelechi Ajgubi. It has now been dubbed in Hindi and released bilingually on ZEE5.
For audiences unfamiliar with Parambrata’s directing work, it’s a nice intro to his cinema of goodness and empathy.
The friendship between Raju and Khelechhi feels far-fetched in a filmy sort of way. Had they met in the real world, one would surely have ripped the other off.
Still, the actors manage to suggest genuine camaraderie, getting drunk on rooftops and trading childhood stories that don’t sound too far off.
Ritabhari Chakraborty is introduced as a stock love interest, but even this is subverted by pairing her with Khelechchi.
There’s a scene in Tiki-Taka that nearly lost me. Raju, frustrated with speaking in English, switches to his heartfelt Bengali, even though his friend doesn’t get a word of it.
It’s a moment that works within the film’s emotional construct: the need, and possibility, of reaching out beyond words.
But we are talking creatures at the end of day — language binds us in a way we have little respite from. This film, by suggesting otherwise, forgives a lot.
Film: Tiki Taka
Director: Parambrata Chatterjee
Cast: Parambrata Chatterjee, Emona Enabulu, Ritabhari Chakraborty, Saswata Chatterjee
Streaming on: Zee5