By Shraddha Kakade
Can you recall how did you first get to know about the ‘bird and the bees?’— mull over that question. Well, I sure did not get to know it from my parents, I learnt about sex from my peer group and the formal sex education that took place in school much later, only helped in confirming what I had heard. But what never ceases to surprise me then and even now is why does our society deal with sex as a tabooed subject?
In Indian families, though the situation is undergoing change, we observe that there is a culture of silence over the topic of sex. Understanding of parents in most of the families is that at the right age the children will eventually get to know about it but how?, from whom?, Whether they will be sensitized to the subject the way they ought to? All these significant questions are relegated sometimes out of embarrassment, or out apprehension, discomfort over this subject.
The reason why I am writing my blog on the movie Balak Palak (BP) is because it marks exceptional work not just in Marathi but Indian cinema. It is the first movie to have openly talked about the societal attitude towards the subject of sex and the need to change it.
“Balak Palak”, the literal translation of the title of the Marathi movie means ‘children’ and ‘Parents’. The title, very simply states two crucial components of its movie namely children (adolescents in this case) and parents. Interestingly, the theme by which these two components are woven together is the subject of ‘sex’ (Often naughtily dubbed in the movie as ‘Dhinchak Dhinchak’ which is the English equivalent of Boom Boom) and the significance of ‘sex education’ among adolescents. BP is a comedy drama, starring young actors Madan Deodhar as Bhagya, Rohit Phalke as Avvya, shashwati Pimplikar as Dolly, Bhagyashree Shankpal as chiu, Prathamesh Parab as Vishu, and prominent Marathi actors, Kishore Kadam as Kadam Kaka and Sai Tamhankar as Neha.
The movie is set somewhere in the early 80’s, where substantial portion of modest middle class lived in the housing complexes termed as ‘Chawls’, (Wherein a number of houses ran adjacent to each other on every floor, sharing the same passage in a single concrete complex, sharing a common ground space in the entryway) there was no internet and TV sets too, were not a regular feature in every household yet.
It is in such a setting the story unfolds. As is said, Curiosity kills the cat, the curiosity of these four friends two boys, Aavya, Bhagya, and the two girls Dolly and chiu is triggered when one of the elderly girls living in their chawl is asked to leave home by her parents on account of some misdemeanor —but on asking what was the misdemeanor she committed?, no one would explain this to them, in fact their parents would shrug off the topic hesitantly. In this bewildered state of mind they set out to seek their own answers and wind up in front of this notorious, ragged school mate of theirs who probably lives in nearby slum with their queries and what follows is a thrilling experience of their exposure to the subject of, ‘Birds and the bees’—
However, this new learning about one’s own sexual identities somewhere changes the equations between these friends, earlier attachment and innocent fun-times between them gradually transforms into squabbles—resulting in the girls and boys detesting each other’s companionship.
Kadam Kaka, an ageing person in chawl, typical old school master kind of an individual, who had already sensed something’s on with these four, tries to draw the attention of these children’s parents and nudges them to talk to their children about the physiological and emotional changes taking place in adolescence. However parents do not pay heed to his advice, disposing it as, too intrusive at times, and other times as doubting their ‘good parenting skills’.
After having failed to convince the parents to talk to their children about sex education eventually an elderly girl from chawl Neha and Kadam Kaka take it upon themselves to discuss the much ignored, even forbidden subject of sex with these four.
Balak Palak can be credited for handling the delicate subject of sex education among adolescents in a very fine way. Making movies on these subjects, in my opinion, can be a tight rope walk as the director has to skillfully ensure that the message comes across subtly yet clearly without bordering on vulgarity. Ravi Jadhav, the director has achieved this difficult feat, which is what makes Balak Palak a movie that can be enjoyed with one’s family—ironically even when it revolves around the theme of sex which is not an openly talked subject in many families even today. The music of the movie powerful, it not only completes it but adds to its appeal, taking the narrative forward; at one time witty, at other time prodding the audience to reflect. The Cinematography is effective—deepens the plot and animates it suitably. However, it is the young star cast of the movie, which steals the show, their innocent characters adds to the magic keeping the viewers spell-bound.
The lone criticism I have for the movie is the time it was set in, true that the early 80’s setting makes the audience reminiscent of the good old days, however it would have been interesting to see how the story develops in today’s day and age, with new information technology around, making it possible for the adolescents to seek adult information online or through other related mediums.
The message that the movie successfully communicates to the public is that, as a society we need to end the prevailing culture of silence in our homes—between adolescents and parents on the subject of sex. When curious teenagers questions about adulthood are met with deafening silence, reluctance or even admonishment they will only seek alternate source of information —which far from informing or sensitizing them, will distort their understanding of the subject.
Other than the above message, what is also noteworthy in this movie is that it sets the stage for larger discussion about the way we as society shape gender specific roles for girls and boys right from the childhood, the way we bring them up and groom them is largely determined by their gender. Also through the prevailing values and norms we constantly condition them in believing what is desirable for a girl and what is not; how a boy should and should not be.
Below is the link to the discussion that ensued on IBN-Lokmat, post the release of BP discussing about the need for sex education home and school, change in larger societal attitude and more…
Lastly, Balak Palak can be categorized as a part of new emerging Marathi cinema, which aims at attracting the attention of an audience larger than its regional language base. Hope we get to see more such meaningful cinema.