Hawaa Hawaai, directed by Amole Gupte, is about a poor fatherless boy who works at a tea stall, but nurses dreams of skating like the rich kids in the neighborhood. Like in his earlier film, 2011’s Stanley Ka Dabba, Gupte addresses themes of child labor, economic inequality and the purity of children who remain unaffected by it.

Arjun (Partho Gupte, the filmmaker’s son) looks on longingly as a swarm of children his age gather every evening to take skating lessons from ‘Lucky Sir’ (Saqib Saleem). Arjun’s friends – four young boys from the wrong side of the tracks like himself – comb a scrap-yard to collect useful bits that help them assemble a nifty pair of wheels for their buddy. When Lucky, himself an orphan, becomes aware of Arjun’s passion, he takes it upon himself to train the boy, determined to turn him into a champion.

Gupte Sr. tells an uplifting story, but there is an underlying pathos here that gives the film emotional heft. Through the tragic back-story of Arjun’s father (Makarand Deshpande), the filmmaker draws our attention to relevant issues like the plight of farmers, and distress migration from rural villages to urban cities. What jars, however, is the melodramatic, soap-opera treatment of emphasizing every emotion. Taking a distinctly opposite approach to the one employed in Stanley Ka Dabba, there is a surprising lack of subtlety here and a tendency to exploit every possible plot point for lump-in-the-throat schmaltziness.

Yet, it is the heartwarming bond between Arjun and his friends, the mentor-protégé relationship between Lucky and Arjun, and the inspiring story of overcoming all odds to realize one’s dreams that stays with you. In a charming scene, Arjun’s four closest friends – a rag-picker, a garage mechanic, a worker in a zari factory, and a street-side flower-seller – make up stories to their respective employers so they can take an hour off work to go with Arjun to buy a pair of skates.

These kids in fact are the heart of this underdog story, and Gupte casts talented little fellas who steal the show. All four boys – Gochi (Ashfaque Bismillah Khan), Bhura (Salman Chhote Khan), Abdul (Maaman Memon), and Murugan (Thirupathi Kushnapelli) – a part of Gupte’s theatre workshop for underprivileged children, Aseema, have a natural ease in front of the camera, and pull off even tough scenes without a hint of self-consciousness. That’s true of Partho too, who last won our hearts as the protagonist in Stanley Ka Dabba, and who effortlessly conveys Arjun’s indefatigable spirit here. Delivering a performance free of all affectations, he gives us a hero impossible not to root for.

To be fair, the adults are in solid form too. Saqib Saleem hits all the right notes as the redemption-seeking skating coach, and Neha Joshi is perfectly cast as Arjun’s mother.

A slim story told with heart, Hawaa Hawaai is among those rare films about the hard lives of impoverished kids that’s never patronizing. Gupte deftly captures the innocence of children, and gives us some terrific moments that are genuinely moving. The occasional false notes notwithstanding, this is a movie that should be watched. I’m going with three out of five for Hawaa Hawaai. Strap up and zoom.

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