Foto (2007)


Language: Hindi
Starring: Arjun Jaykrishna, Naseeruddin Shah, Tom Alter
Director: Virendra Saini

Foto, an introverted 11-year-old boy, prefers to dwell in his world of imagination. When a film crew arrives in town, Foto’s creativity takes wings.

In her now legendary TED talk, The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain speaks about the dominant culture predisposed to undervalue introverts. Our principal establishments like offices, educational and religious institutions are designed for extroverts. Cain recalled her time at a school summer camp where her not being chatty and outgoing was considered NOT okay. Introversion is often misconstrued as a personality disorder, and introverts are made to feel inadequate and prompted to come out of their shells.

In Virendra Saini’s Foto, the eponymous character (Krishna) is a soft-spoken, reserved boy with a vivid imagination, who struggles with studies and at making friends. Amidst  admonitions and snickers, the young boy finds encouragement from his mother, Shefali (played graciously by Geeta Agarwal Sharma), who has the prudence to identify with his creativity. In fact, the boy is named so for his penchant for imagery.

Support and positive reinforcement and essentials of good parenting. In his maiden venture Kabhi Paas, Kabhi Fail (2009), too, Saini had greatly emphasized it. In Foto, when Foto’s teachers raise concern about something being “wrong” with him, Shefali shuts it down politely. Instead she has an interesting conversation with her son about his ideas and suggests a pragmatic way to channel his creativity.

When a film crew arrives in his town for a shoot, Foto’s imagination finds a footing. He is dazzled by the world of props, colors, sets, sound and music, and the miracle workers who could make it thunder and rain in a jiffy.

Armed with a copy of  David Robinson’s The History of World Cinema and guidance from his ‘magician’ friend, Foto learns about cinema history, landmarks films and the various aspects of film-making. Foto’s flight of fantasy is often disrupted by a skeptic from the Imagination Detection & Prevention Squad, but the young learner chugs along.

As the shy, inventive Foto, Arjun Jaykrishna is a natural. The twinkle in his eyes and sweet-sounding voice reminds one of the cherubic Jugal Hansraj. Interestingly, Foto’s magician friend is played by Naseeruddin Shah. Ambling around in the idyllic splendour of Ranikhet, his delightful conversations with Arjun are strangely reminiscent of the ones in Masoom (1983). The warmth and the charming unhurried pace Shah brings to his unnamed character is a reminder of the gifted actor he is. The film is also peppered with cameos from several familiar faces, with a special mention to theatre veteran Uday Chandra as the skeptic.

Foto in essence is an ode to cinema and the dreamers who dared to create the magical world of motion picture, and would resonate with anyone who has a love affair with the movies.


National Film Award for Best Children’s Film (Year 2007)

Watch: Foto


Ek Ajooba (2000)

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Language: Hindi
Starring: Meghana Erande, Harsh Lunia, Omkar Kapoor
Director: Sunil Advani

When Ratan’s studious sister receives some holy ash from a wise old man to help her in securing first rank in class, his slacker friend incites Ratan to steal this ‘magical’ blessing.

Ek Ajooba is ad and documentary filmmaker Sunil Advani’s first feature film. Through the story of a few schoolkids, the film communicates the age-old adage: there is no short cut to success. No magical charms, chants or totems have the power to give you desired result. The the only path to success is through hard work and self-confidence.

Chitra (Erande) is a studious girl, who despite all her efforts, is unable to secure first position in her class. Her younger brother Ratan (Lunia) is a mediocre student who repeatedly gets hauled up by his teachers for poor performance. And being friends with slacker Baakya (Kapoor) isn’t doing him any good. When Chitra shares her concern with Guruji, a wise old family friend, he hands her some holy ash promising desired result. Baakya incites Ratan to steal the ash in order to pass in the exams. A reluctant Ratan is torn between the prospect of excelling in exams and getting out of teachers’ bad books, and stealing from his loving sister.

In a key moment in the much-adored movie, Kung Fu Panda, Po disappointed with his inability to be the promised Dragon Warrior, has an epiphany when his chef father reveals that his coveted “secret ingredient soup” has no secret ingredient. “To make something special you just believe it’s special,” says Mr Ping. As the silver haired, white clad Guruji in Ek Ajooba, Amrish Puri inspires the same sentiment that it’s the belief that will take you places.

Advani’s intention of maintaining suspense around the exam results and the film’s moral message right up to the climax is understandable, but the unfolding of the final events falters in execution looking rather ill-conceived.

Ek Ajooba has an interesting cast. It stars two popular child artistes from the late Nineties. Harsh Lunia — better-known as Just Mohabbat‘s Jai — plays the guilt-ridden Ratan, and Master Omkar of the Chhota bachcha jaan ke (Masoom, 1996) fame is the wily Baakya. As Chitra is the sweet-sounding Meghana Erande, who has gone on to become one of country’s leading voice artistes. Having voiced several cartoon characters like Noddy, Dexter’s Laboratory’s Dee Dee, Ninja Hattori and Bob The Builder’s Dizzy, she is now a part of another generation’s childhood.

Watch: Ek Ajooba

Ankur Maina Aur Kabootar (1989)

Ankur Maina Aur Kabootar

Language: Hindi
Starring: MK Raina, Paintal, Master Himanshu
Director: Madan Bawaria

Ankur joins his ornithologist grandpa on a campaign to Mauritius to save the endangered pink pigeon endemic to the island nation.

As the year 1989 drew to an end, Hindi cinema witnessed a blitzkrieg called Maine Pyar Kiya. The musical romance was the biggest hit of the year. Along with its fresh-faced lead pair, the other big attraction of MPK was the love letter carrying pet white pigeon — aptly named Handsome in real life.

Speaking of pigeons, earlier that year, another film centered around the bird. Ankur Maina Aur Kabootar was a joint venture between The Children’s Film Society India (CFSI) and the Mauritius Film Development Corporation. It promoted the cause of the rare pink pigeon, native to Mauritius, and in the verge of extinction during that period.

Over generations, due to habitat destruction and mankind’s growing intrusion, the island had lost several endemic species like the broad-billed parrot, giant tortoise, and the famed dodo. The same fate awaited the pink pigeons if steps aren’t taken for their conservation.

The message is projected through the experiences of Ankur (Himanshu), a cheerful and inquisitive boy, who along with their caretaker Gangadin (Paintal) joins his ornithologist grandfather Dr Sinha (Raina) on a quest to Mauritius to secure the dwindling population of pink pigeons. Being among the earliest films to be shot in the island, AMAK captures the Mauritian flora and fauna in their pristine glory.

The film is directed by FTII graduate Madan Bawaria, is best known to get Jaya Bachchan’s movie career rolling. Bawaria directed his fellow FTII alum in his diploma film, Suman, which impressed Hrishikesh Mukherjee so much that he cast her in his 1971 film Guddi about a starry eyed girl’s fascination with Bollywood heroes. Interestingly, Shabana Azmi, too, regards Jaya’s effortless performance in the film as her inspiration to join the industry. Suman won the President’s Award and Bawaria went on to assist several directors prominent filmmakers including Basu Chatterjee, and directed Shaayad starring Naseeruddin Shah in 1979.

Films can be an excellent source of moral and social lessons, especially with respect to children. And AMAK is a lovely example of it. Each life form is essential and deserves respect, practicing responsible ecotourism and other such important messages are conveyed without preaching or condescending.

Apart from its environmental stand, the film’s subtle focus on empathy is worth mentioning. Ankur is polite and attentive to people around him in his interactions. The gracious portrayals of the supporting characters like Gangadin and local healer Madam Zozo, played by the formidable Savita Bajaj affirm Bawaria’s attention to detail.

And as children need stable, sensitive adults to steer them, their cinema too can benefit from such presence. In AMAK, this is Dr Bhagirathprasad Sinha, performed with great affability by MK Raina. As the perceptive bird expert, the theatre legend’s gentle guidance about compassion, coexistence, and acceptance of one’s own failings make for far better learning than many chapters of moral science would.


National Film Award for Best Children’s Film (Year 1990)

Watch: Ankur Maina Aur Kabootar


Abhay (1994)


Language: Hindi
Starring: Nana Patekar, Benjamin Gilani, Moonmoon Sen
Director: Annu Kapoor

The notorious ghost of an infamous haunted house is at his wits’ end, as Nayaks — the new occupants of the bungalow — are nowhere near being spooked. And adding insult to injury, he is also at the receiving end of the kids’ practical jokes.

Oscar Wilde’s 1887 novella The Canterville Ghost has spawned a host of adaptations and re-imaginings over the years. In Hindi cinema, before the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Bhoothnath (2008) hit the screens, Wilde’s ghost story had inspired Abhay — another children’s film made a decade-and-half before Bhoothnath.

Abhay is headlined by a fierce-looking Nana Patekar, as the ghost of the erstwhile Rana, the previous owner of the house. It is also the directorial debut of actor-presenter Annu Kapoor. Given Kapoor’s deep background in music and theatre, his retelling of the Canterville tale is Indian in spirit even as it remains steadfastly loyal to its source material — imbibing the themes of culture clash, forgiveness, and the significance of life and death.

Wilde’s story of a ghost of a dead English nobleman at loggerheads with the American family that has moved into his castle was essentially a conflict between British and American cultures. The ghost, Sir Simon’s elaborate roles and dramatic attempts fail to terrorize the Otises, who not only dismiss his ghostly presence but also offer contemporary, practical solutions like Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator for his clanking chains and Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover for blood stains. Wilde satirizes both American consumerism and the futile efforts by the British to hold on to their old, traditional ways of life.

Kapoor tinkers around this idea and makes Abhay about scientific rationale versus superstitious beliefs. So here, when the Nayaks encounter Rana’s ghost, the father (Gilani) analyses the situation, and concludes that the hypothesis about ghosts and their existence is now a reality. Even as the parents offer to have a conversation with Rana about peaceful coexistence, their naughty sons’ pranks pronounce the ghost’s hostility.

The couple’s youngest, Priyanka is a sensitive soul, who eventually manages to befriend Rana. She discovers that behind his grouchy ghost persona, is a tortured man with a tragic past. As Priyanka helps Rana in unburdening himself, she discovers the power of love and mercy.

The film emphasizes the importance of not being intimidated by fear of the unknown. Be it her prankster brothers or Priyanka, the children as encouraged to be curious and to question. As one of the characters in the movie says, “main janna chahta hoon, main hal karna chahta hoon aur kisi bhi agyaat cheez ki khoj ke liye taiyyar hoon.”

Awards: National Film Award for Best Children’s Film (Year 1994)

Watch: Abhay










Aasman Se Gira (1992)

Aasmaan Se Gira

Language: Hindi
Starring: Raghuvir Yadav, Master Abhishek, Kalpana Iyer
Director: Pankaj Parashar

Dissatisfied by his lonely and restrictive royal lifestyle, a young prince experiences joy and liberation when he befriends a mystical man from another planet.

In the Eighties, Pankaj Parashar was considered among the sassiest filmmakers. Among the films and numerous TV commercials he directed, the Beverly Hills Cops styled zippy thriller Jalwa (1987) — with a pumped up Naseeruddin Shah in lead no less, the trendsetting detective TV series Karamchand (1985), and an immensely enjoyable blockbuster Chaalbaaz (1989) remain Parashar’s best known work. His brand of cinema: stylish, technically polished, entertaining, and at times wacky.

 Aasman Se Gira is perhaps Parashar’s wackiest outing. The plot is simple: a blooming friendship between people from two different worlds, literally. The young prince aptly named Koutuk (Abhishek) is curious about the world and its ways. Trained for statesmanship, he is kept in seclusion by his vain, mean aunt Mashila. When faced with a man from another planet, Koutuk sees a chance at friendship. He names his new friend Trishanku and promises to find a way to send him back to his home planet. As the two set out on an uncertain journey — with Mashila’s guards on their heels — Koutuk and Trishanku meet several fascinating people and imbibe new experiences.

Set in the historic splendor of Rajasthan, the zaniness of the characters couldn’t have been more striking. Kalpana Iyer as the outlandish Mashila could well be a composite of Cruella De Vil and Snow White’s Evil Queen. Her whimsical act is gloriously matched by Raghuvir Yadav’s Trishanku. As the bizarre headgear sporting and funny language spewing alien, Yadav dances, sings (the film has some fantastic banal songs), and performs with just the right verve that a fantasy children’s film requires. The versatile actor finds an easy camaraderie with his pocket-sized co-star Master Abhishek, who is likely to remind you of Master Manjunath of Malgudi Days (1987) fame.

Aasman Se Gira also has a host of Bollywood stars in guest appearances including Sridevi, Anil Kapoor, Amjad Khan and Anupam Kher.








Karamati Coat (1993)

Karamati Coat

Language: Hindi
Starring: Om Raut, Irrfan, Manohar Singh
Director: Ajay Kartik

Imagine owning a coat that conjures a rupee every time you put your hand in its pocket!

Raghu, an impoverished urchin, comes in possession of one such magical coat. Dazzled by the coat’s mystical power Raghu shares the news with his friends. The motley gang has a merry time buying new clothes, enjoying good food with an unending supply of coins at their disposal. However, the coat’s secret is discovered by a gang of thugs, and soon Raghu would realize that along with easy money comes its troubles.

The Nineties was a vibrant time for children’s films in India. Thanks to the backing of the Children’s Film Society India, several new and prestigious filmmakers and artistes dabbled in cinema for the young viewers. Ajay Kartik’s Karamati Coat falls into the category of the quintessential 90s children’s film with an eclectic young cast, appearances from established actors, relevant social setups, and a moralistic story at its core. Kartik has previously been known for scripting popular Doordarshan serials like Wagle Ki Duniya, Ye Jo Hai Zindagi and Sara Jahan Hamara.

The film revolves around the lives of children living on the margins, and how when presented with an opportunity to live it up, unlike adults, can find joy in the simplest of experiences.

As Raghu — the underprivileged, unwary lad who suitably develops street savviness — Om Raut measures up. The support cast is populated by familiar faces on DD in the Eighties/ Nineties like Vijay Kashyap, Virendra Saxena, Renuka Israni, Arun Bali among others. And then, there’s a delightful cameo by Irrfan, one among the several glorious pre-Irrfan era performances that have come to be more enjoyable in the present context.

The film depicts the city of Bombay through the various haunts of its young marginal inhabitants — an old rusty footbridge, a deserted coach in rail yard, a quaint Irani cafe, and the all encompassing sea that in every once in a while delivers a treasure of sorts to its shore.

Watch: Karamati Coat



Kabhi Paas, Kabhi Fail (1999)

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Language: Hindi
Starring: Sajeel Parakh, Saurabh Shukla
Director: Virendra Saini

Eight-year-old Robin is a math wiz. His flair for numbers has earned him the admiration of his whole village, and the young boy, too, uses his talent to help the villagers in their everyday calculations.

Set in a quaint Goan village, Kabhi Paas, Kabhi Fail, begins by introducing Robin’s (Parakh) happy little world and its many inhabitants. His parents are nurturing and appreciative of his skills, his dog Koko is his constant companion and confidante. We also meet an enthusiastic shop owner, an affectionate washerwoman, a genial priest — each one, Robin’s friend and well-wisher.

Robin’s blissful life is threatened with the arrival of his unscrupulous uncle, Joe (Shukla). Joe coaxes Robin’s parents to send the boy to the city with him for better education. His true intention however is to make money off Robin’s extraordinary mind.

For a child raised in a loving environment and among good people, it takes a while for Robin to recognize the exploitative world he has been thrown into. Joe’s manipulations and the smooth talking world of showbiz is an education of sorts for Robin. Like a puppet, he is made to perform on one show after another. And the dream of studying in a good school remains elusive.

Kabhi Paas, Kabhi Fail is the directorial debut of ace cinematographer Virendra Saini, known for his sublime work in films like Sparsh (1980), Chashme Buddoor (1981) and Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989) among others. The film benefits from Saini’s solid understanding of imagery — the visually stunning idyllic rural scenery signifies Robin’s innocence and the untainted village life. And as the scene moves to the city, the dominance of indoor shots could well be a metaphor for Robin’s caged status.

Thanks to Saini’s long association with the New Wave cinema, Kabhi Paas… has some delightful cameos in store, as arthouse biggies like Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval and Tom Alter join in and even sing the songs themselves.

As Robin, Sajeel Parakh’s cheerful disposition is both endearing and effortless. His camaraderie with the the dog (Sona, the adorable Labrador playing Koko) is one of the highlights of the movie. The young actor is firmly supported by the ever dependable Saurabh Shukla, as the cunning yet comically craven Joe.


National Film Award for Best Children’s Film (Year 1999)

Best Child Artist – Queen’s Child Guidence Centre – USA

Watch: Kabhi Paas, Kabhi Fail