Our list of the best movies with which to commemorate Children’s Day have passed through a few tests. The children should behave like children, rather than midget-sized adults who know it all. They should sound like themselves, and not deliver dialogue in singsong voices or those high-pitched tones that grate on the nerves. They should preferably be curious rather than precocious, and hang on their innocence and uncorrupted selves. The titles themselves need to reflect the world of the little ones with honesty, intelligence and sensitivity. Humour is a bonus.
Pather Panchali (1955) Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali has child artistes who sparkle. In spite of their poverty, Apu (Subir Banerjee) and Durga (Uma Das Gupta) bring simple pleasures to a life that can still afford running through the fields, dancing in the rain and the sweet-sour taste of blended tamarind.
Kummatty (1979) G Aravindan’s magical movie examines the folklore surrounding the bogeyman who turns children into animals for fun and then turns them back into humans. One boy in a village misses the moment when the spell is broken and is stuck in a dog’s body. Evocatively shot by Shaji N Karun, the movie features a lovely musical score.
My Dear Kuttichattan (1984) This early 3D film in Malayalam by Jijo Punnoose, dubbed in Hindi as Chhota Chetan, is firmly embedded in the memories of the children of the 1980s. Kuttichatan is a ghost who escapes the spell of an evil sorcerer and befriends three children, one of whom has a comically alcoholic father (Dalip Tahil). Among its highlights: Kuttichattan walking on the walls, and smuggling his friends into a cabaret show that soon becomes sanskari, thanks to Kuttichattan’s magic.
Mr India (1987) Shekhar Kapur proved that he could create winsome child characters in Masoom (1983). In Mr India, a movie for the child inside every adult, Kapur assembles a band of children who are inspired by the bratty brood from The Sound of Music. They play off beautifully against the adults, especially in the acclaimed “Tina, meri dost banogi?” scene.
Salaam Bombay! (1998) Mira Nair’s estimable debut features street children playing versions of themselves. The hardscrabble world of truants, drug peddlers, pint-sized thieves and child prostitutes hustling for survival and snatched moments of happiness on the streets of Mumbai is marvellously performed by the non-professional actors, especially Shafiq Syed as the lead character Krishna.
Abhayam (1991) Santosh Sivan has made his share of acclaimed children’s films, including Halo, Malli, and Tahaan, while the actor Tarun is better known for Mani Ratnam’s Anjali (1990). But both shone in a different project altogether. The Malayalam film Abhayam, directed by the cinematographer’s father, Sivan, is the charming tale of Vinu (Tarun), who feels oppressed enough by his alarm clock and his school to flee home and try and make his way to his beloved grandfather’s house in the village.
Halo (1996) When Sasha finds a stray puppy and names him Halo, her mother-less life suddenly seems complete. When Halo goes missing, Sasha (Benaf Dadachandji, outstanding) assembles her friends (including an adorable bald and bespectacled boy) and sets out on a hunt throughout Mumbai. Since the movie has been written by Sanjay Chhel and beautifully shot and directed by Santosh Sivan from a knee-high perspective, all the adults behave comically, including Raj Kumar Santoshi as Sasha’s father and Mukesh Rishi as the kindly police inspector.
Iqbal (2005) Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal shows the will and promise of an upcoming deaf-mute cricketer played by a fresh and unmannered Shreyas Talpade, but the superb performance of Shweta Prasad who plays his twinkling-eyed, canny younger sister is what complements his story and makes for the film’s delightful moments.
Little Zizou (2008) Sooni Taraporevala’s directorial debut looks at the debate over racial purity within the Parsi community through the eyes of our titular hero, a Zinedine Zidane fan. His real name (Xerxes) is as much of an embarrassment as Khodaiji, his fundamentalist priest father. Zizou’s adventures are interwoven with his brother Art’s one-sided romance, the liberal newspaper publisher Presswala’s battles against Khodaiji, and Presswala’s sparky daughter, Liana. Taraporevala’s own children, Jehan and Iyanah, play Zizou and Liana.
Pasanga (2009) Although they fail our no-precocious test, the kids from Pasanga are irresistible. Pandiraj’s debut feature, in Tamil, is about the rivalry between Anbukkarasu, future Collector of his Tamil Nadu district, and his neighbour and classmate Jeeva, who is the son of the school teacher. The bitter contest unfolds even as Anbukkarasu’s uncle falls for Jeeva’s sister.
Stanley Ka Dabba (2011) Despite its insistently upbeat tone, Amole Gupte’s movie is actually the sad story of an orphan who is shamed by his teacher for not bringing a lunchbox to school. Stanley (Partho Gupte) tucks into the food his classmates bring every day, and surprises his teacher by turning up with his own meal one day.
The Good Road (2013) Grim and gritty, Gyan Correa’s The Good Road was the controversial entry for the Oscars in 2013. Along with Aditya (Keval Katrodia) and Poonam (Poonam Kesar Singh), the film shows children who are lost in many ways. Strong and plucky, each child copes tearlessly to find a way out of their circumstances.
Kaaka Muttai (2015) M Manikandan’s beautifully observed and performed drama about two impoverished brothers who dream about pizza is about the real slumdogs who will never be millionaires. Known only as Crow’s Egg Senior (Vignesh) and Crow’s Egg Junior (Ramesh), the boys work hard to contribute to their household’s meagre earnings, but their resolve is tested when they encounter the cheesy pleasures of pizza.
Killa (2015) Cycling races, bathroom banter, and the memory of a summer spent in light and shadow – Avinash Arun’s moving debut is the story of 11-year-old Chinmay, who adjusts to a new school and a new set of friends after his mothers gets transferred. The class topper soon rebels, aided by a bunch of the most natural-sounding kids seen on the screen.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) Can anybody steal a film from under the nose of Salman Khan? Yes, she can. The angelic Harshaali Malhotra plays Munni, a mute girl from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir who gets lost in Agra and is taken home by the good-hearted Pavan (Khan) and intrepid Pakistani reporter Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Malhotra regains her speech in the last tear-jerking moments, but her expressive face and camera-friendliness speak volumes.