Verdict: Dhappa is delightful with thought-provoking subtext.

The National Award winning film Dhappa was screened at MAMI 2018 and got impressive reviews. Now the film has released theatrically and has everyone’s attention yet again. Dhappa is a brainchild (pun not intended) of Marathi cinema’s contemporary director Nipun Dharmadhikari and veteran actor and writer Girish Kulkarni, complemented by an enviously talented cast.

What’s Dhappa About:

Thematically, Dhappa is about ecological conservation and national integration, for which the film won its National Award. However, the film’s underlying message is quite clearly about free speech. Dhappa shows you the ecosystem of a posh society in Pune city. You see a typical “society uncle” who is intolerant of a crime that plaguing the society – stolen custard apple. It also has a gang of regular school kids who indulge in school gang-y things like having water fights and taking part in the society’s Ganesh festival. The “leader” of the gang is a wheelchair-bound Suhrud Sharangpani and is nicknamed Hawkya (presumably short for Hawking) because kids are not generally known to have chill. For the society’s Ganeshtostav, the resident playwright and director Anuradha Deodhar decides to stage a play about the environment. It has characters like talking trees, Sant Tukaram and Jesus Christ. However, having Jesus Christ as one of the characters in a Ganpati play doesn’t sit well with the local right-wing Mahashakti party. The party goons rough up the props and scare the society members into not pursuing the play any longer. However, the kids are not down with this, especially the kid who is excited about playing Jesus Christ in the play. They all agree that they will prepare for the play in secret.

What Works:

Let’s cross the obvious ones first. While there are powerhouses like Irawati Harshe and Girish Kulkarni, the film rests on the kids. Director Nipun Dharmadhikari must have worked relentlessly for such effortless performances from each of them. Dhappa doesn’t fool around. It gets to the subject matter immediately and doesn’t let you lose interest for a second. The narration is crisp and the dialogues are engaging and conversational. The film successfully tackles the issues around free speech through a fable-like setting with the gang of children as the backdrop. Dhappa is in no way a children’s film, although both adults and kids can enjoy it together. Because apart from the social message, the film by itself is an entertaining and a happy one, devoid of pessimism. The story is simple and that makes it even more relatable. The issues and conflicts that arise in the film develop realistically. A few scenes like the kids imagining themselves as superheroes, which may have seemed cheesy in any other context, look endearing in Dhappa. The adults have small but strong roles that complement the main story perfectly.

What Could’ve Been Better:

If you must find a flaw in an exceptional film, it is this. While the first half of the film feels like it’s happening in our own backyard, the second half relies a little upon the audience’s acceptance of slightly unbelievable cinematic elements.

Why You Should Watch:

Everything about Dhappa is enjoyable. The kids deliver some great performances and the humor is natural. The film has a smooth and gripping flow that is not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. In no context is this just a kiddie movie and it has every element of an intelligent and yet simple film. Dhappa is a welcome addition to the content-backed Marathi films to hit the theatres.