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


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






Aw Aakare Aa / A, B, She (2003)

Language: Odia
Cast: Adyasha Mohapatra, Debu Bose, Diptimayee Panda
Director: Subas Das

Aw Akare Aa

Should one take textbook questions just as they are — set and formulaic? Does our educational system welcome alternative thinking and unconventional questions? For a country obsessed with marks and reserving a child’s competence to result cards, Aw Aakare Aa explores these questions with great simplicity.

If a man eats two sweets in two minutes, then the math says he consumes one sweet in a minute. But what if he gobbles up more than one sweet in that one minute? These are the kind of questions that dog the young mind of Mini (Mohapatra), the protagonist of Aw Aakare Aa. And the conventional curriculum driven education system doesn’t do much to satisfy her curiosity.

A motherless child, Mini is restless and full of questions. On visiting her grandfather in the village, this inquisitive girl discovers the joys and mysteries of nature. Far from the dreariness of classroom teaching, memorizing lessons and appearing for exams, Mini gathers new interests. She excels at flying kites, learns to climb trees and catch fish.

When the world makes her weary, the little girl finds supports in her imaginary teacher, Miss Mini. Away from yelling teachers and boring classes, Miss Mini takes her out in the open fields, where games replace homework, lessons are shared with songs and dance, and learning is fun.

As the little Mini grows up, she still finds herself struggling with a flawed education system — only now as a teacher. Unable to conform to constricted ideas of teaching and learning, she charts a new territory for herself and her students.

Aw Aakare Aa is a sincere effort that questions the drudgery of classroom teaching and emphasizes on the need of harboring unorthodox ideas in the process of learning.

Awards: National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Odia (Year – 2003)

Trailer: Aw Aakare Aa / A, B, She