THE LITTLE BOY AND HIS SCHOOL BAG
Debutant Rajesh Pinjani's Baboo Band Baaja—which won four National Awards in 2010 and is now getting a belated release—is another worthy addition to the New Wave in Marathi cinema that has brought familiar tales of rural exploitation and poverty into focus by putting children at the centre of the narrative. It's an intelligent ploy to draw attention to the plight of the dispossessed who, like the rest of us, also have families, dreams and ambition but are so impoverished, their smallest aspirations seem ridiculous and ultimately their focus shifts from fighting for a livelihood to escaping the crushing privation and indignity somehow.
Children, on the other hand, witness their parents' suffering and are themselves subject to hardships, but because they are young and innocent and full of hope for a better future, they aren't as weighed down. In BBB, Baboo (Vivek Chabukswar) is a charming little boy whose father once had his own brass band, but having fallen on bad times, he has mortgaged his instruments with the local moneylender and is now just one of the freelance bandwalas playing at marriages, funerals and sundry occasions.
Money is hard to come by and Baboo's mother goes around the village collecting old clothes and bartering them for aluminum dabbas—one remembers seeing such women roaming the streets of suburban Mumbai in one's childhood, but evidently they can no longer make a living in the city and have thus disappeared. Her meagre earnings supplement the family income and occasionally, she gets lucky with old khaki shorts that Baboo can wear to school and escape the wrath of his teacher who loves to whack and reprimand him at every turn.
When Baboo loses his school bag, catastrophe strikes. The little boy is petrified of his father's wrath. His mother is worried he will miss out on his education—his ticket to a better life. His grandmother does all she can to protect him. While the father believes it's for the best as he would anyway grow up to be a bandwala and sending him to school is pointless.
So Baboo spends his time wandering aimlessly. But because he's a sprightly kid he absorbs everything around him. He occasionally plays with the madwoman who makes paper planes, he goes to the market to sell the brooms his grandmother weaves, he catches his young neighbour nearly kissing her photographer boyfriend and he gets lured by the local bully to unscrew taps from community water outlets and sell them to a scrap dealer for a pittance. The money he makes from this enterprise can't buy him new books, but he procures himself a thick moustache from the toy seller and roams around feeling like a grown man, even proposing that his father get him married, since the local politician is offering money to those who participate in the mass wedding ceremony he plans to organise.
Baboo is of course the centre of the narrative. But it is equally the story of his parents—one dejected and given to drown his despair in drink, the other a born fighter, prepared to go great lengths to ensure that her son's life is different from hers. The mother is a feisty woman unafraid to speak her mind in any situation and Mitalee Jagtap Varadkar's National Award for Best Actress is richly deserved. As is Chabukswar's Best Child Artist Award.
Baboo Band Baaja begins and ends with a funeral. In the first, Baboo plays chimes as a stand-in for the regular musician who hasn't turned up and like the other kids, picks up the coins that the funeral party keeps dropping on their way to the crematorium. In the second, life has served him his first big blow and ensured that this precocious kid who could smile through just about any situation, has grown up before his time and will never be the same again.