I can’t think of another film I saw recently that stayed with me like Killa has. This incredible Marathi film by debutant Avinash Arun tells the simple coming-of-age story of an 11-year-old boy in rural Maharashtra, but there’s such emotional truth to his experiences and his journey that it’ll feel real and familiar even to those raised in very different circumstances.
Chinmay (Archit Devadhar) has moved with his mother (Amruta Subhash) from Pune to a small coastal town in the Konkan region where she has been transferred in her government job. Chinmay, who lost his father the previous year, is a well-behaved, sensitive boy, but he’s overcome with feelings of isolation as he struggles to adjust to his new surroundings. He’s a smart student, but the new school appears to be populated with unruly local kids with whom he has little in common.
Even if you’ve never lived outside of a big city, most of us at some point or the other in our lives have known what it’s like to walk into a (class)room and feel like an outsider. To feel like you don’t belong. Based on the director’s own experiences growing up, Killa evokes an authentic sense of displacement and ‘not-fitting-in’. Chinmay acts out by repeatedly confronting his mother, dismissing her cooking, and by being rude to the neighbors. She for her part, is dealing with her own problems at work, but tends to internalize her feelings. Your heart goes out to the pair as they negotiate their new life.
When Chinmay makes friends with a group of boys in his class, we see his surroundings with a new set of eyes. Arun, who is also the cinematographer of the film, shoots in the monsoons, giving us lush green landscapes and swelling seas. The film benefits from a strong sense of place and time. Arun paints a vivid portrait of childhood in rural India: cycle races along the Ghats, a trip to a nearby fort, an afternoon catching crabs on the beach.
There’s a distinctly melancholic feel and pace to Killa, which is appropriate given the themes that the film explores. Arun exercises remarkable restraint in telling this delicate story, and he’s aided by his excellent cast. Archit Devadhar is a complete revelation as the impressionable protagonist; his expressions reveal maturity far greater than his years. Amruta Subhash conveys both strength and heartbreak through a nicely understated performance; she’s riveting on screen. But the scene-stealer in Killa is the pint-sized Parth Bhalerao, playing Chinmay’s friend and puppy-torturing local scamp Bandya.
Killa is as much a story of friendship, trust, forgiveness and grief. It makes some nice observations about childhood and the bond between a single parent and a child. You’ll come out feeling a tinge of sadness, but also fully satisfied with how things turn out for our little hero.
I’m going with a full five out of five for Avinash Arun’s deeply moving film Killa. If there is such a thing as a perfect film, my vote goes to this one. Don’t miss it. At any cost.