Time to discuss about the, “bird and the bees”: Review of the movie ‘Balak Palak’

18 Feb

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.



6 Responses to “Time to discuss about the, “bird and the bees”: Review of the movie ‘Balak Palak’”

  1. Amruta Mudholkar February 18, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Very well analysed. I totally agree that it would have been actually interesting to see the movie in todays times where the kids can easily get access to explicit content through internet etc. There is a need for parents to understand the necessities of connecting with their children and even educate them about sex because getting in the wrong side is very easy for children due to their lack of knowledge. Hopefully more of such movies are made in mainstream hindi cinema.

    • Shraddha February 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      Hi Amruta! 🙂 Thanks for taking time out and reading the article. I hope we get to see more such cinema, shedding light on many more critical issues. The most interesting aspect of the movie is it conveys the message across (of the need for sex-education and open discussion between parents and adolescents on the subject of sex) without getting preachy.

  2. smita bankar February 21, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    wat a fantastic work dear………………..yes dats true we in Indian society are quite conservative on this issue specially girls are highly forbidden to talk or know about this… A constant silence sumtyms create anxious situation wherein teenagers get into wrong way of knowing it… In patriarchal society due to high men dominance girls,women are prone to fall prey to heinous sexual offences against them…and thus due to unawareness cannot defend it.. So hats off for your blog and good job!!!!!

    • Shraddha February 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Hi Smita! 🙂 Appreciate you taking your time out to read and reply. There is a need to shun the taboo prevailing over ‘sex talks’, especially between parents and adolescents. It was a welcome change to watch a cinema addressing this senstivie issue so skilfully. Yes and more importantly, this movie has set the stage for broader debate on how gender roles and values are shaped in our patriarchal society (which as we know is the root cause of women subjugation at home and in society at large). Thanks to this movie, a number of critical yet otherwise never addressed issues have become a matter of public discourse.

  3. jankipandya March 12, 2013 at 6:04 am #

    I am yet to see the movie so cannot comment but one of my colleague at ORF, Rammohan was not too happy with the movie I thought it would be interesting to tell you what he felt. In his own words given below :

    “Gender sexuality in tender school-age is a sensitive subject and its depiction on celluloid requires clarity of thoughts from the director about the purpose of making such movie. One simply cannot make such movies to ‘sale’ in the commercial sense. And if made, cannot ask for immunity for his bravery. Public education and sensitization (in humorous or jocular way) should be embedded principles of such themes for a responsible film-maker. In that sense, B-P appears to be farcical and without any substance, while dealing with pubescence dilemmas in children’s head. Why a child picks up BP movies and why its kind if a natural gravitation requires some logical plot and substantive explanation. Though, a lower class child ‘educating’ middle-class about do’s and don’ts of factor ‘X’ is fraught with cliche. Even the resolution of the issue, with an aging person giving sermon of don’ts is cliched and make the entire theme crumbles with sugary moral dose.

    It’s a brave attempt where at least words and sounds of sex, intercourse and sexual arousal are audible..even though the plot revolves around children. But daring ends there, rest of the film is too flaccid to hold the theme.”

    – Rammohan

    • Shraddha March 16, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Hi Rammohan 🙂 Thank you for you inputs.
      This blog is my subjective take on the movie and I would want to inform you that I welcome your different take on the same. However there are a few things you said that I beg to differ with,

      Firstly, Undoubtedly gender-sexuality in school age is a sensitive subject but I could not figure how you concluded that the director lacked clarity of thought on the subject?(can you please be precise)
      If you follow the discussion on the news channel on the movie (link of one such video is embedded in my blogpost) you will get first hand evidence of the purpose and the reserach Ravi Jadhav(Director) and his team did before they made a movie on this subject.

      Also, you commented one cannot make such movies for ‘sale’ in commercial sense and if so cannot ask immunity for his bravery.
      I think these are too strong words to come up with, unless you have studied the background research that has gone into the movie. The Director’s attempt as I have gathered from news discussions and interviews on BP, was to bring the subject of ‘Sex-education’ and the need between parents and adolescents to talk on the same subject openly than pushing it under the carpet as a tabooed subject.
      Further I would want to know, How did you judge that the movie was made with the aim for ‘sale’ in commercial sense solely? It is as if there was nothing more to it… by concluding this, you are dis-counting the artistic work involved,the effort of Jadhav and his team’s to alter the societal attitude towards sex-education through their cinema, in their own way

      Secondly, you said, ” Public education and sensitization(in humorous or jocular way) should be embedded principles for such themes for a responsible flim-maker.”
      Here, I would want to ascertain if you have seen the movie because BP has both these elements.In fact to begin with, the title of the movie itself is a saying example.Through the dialogues, conversation between Kadam Kaka and the children, even the songs these elements have been woven in subtly in my opinion. I would want to ask you to narrate me an incident of the movie that made you conclude it lacks these elements or as you said that, in this regard the movie is ‘farcical’ and lacks substance.

      You also added, why adolescents pick up BP movies and are naturally gravitated towards it requires a logical plot and substantive explanation.
      So, are you suggesting that the movie BP lacked a logical plot? let me recollect it for you that the plot is substantial enough. The curiosity of these four youngsters is triggered when one of the chawl’s elderly girl is asked to leave her home by her parents. When none of the parents are willing to the tell these four teenagers what misdemeanor the elderly girl has committed, rather parents shrug the issue by saying (in marathi)that ‘shaene khalla tene’ (The phrase is a metaphor to refer to an shameful act committed by young girl) This discreet attitude by their parents and elder members in the chawl on this incident triggers their curiosity and so they start searching their own answers among their peer group.

      Importantly, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the movie has a U/A certification, thus it is evident enough that the movie has been made responsibly, making it possible for families, Parents and children viewing.

      Lastly, the point you made of, “a lower class child ‘educating’ middle-class about do’s and don’ts of factor ‘X’ is fraught with cliche.”

      Well you can definitely interpret this entire aspect as cliched. Even I momentarily thought of it as I watched the movie, wandered as to why only a fellow from slum is shown to have knowledge of these things first and early or why is he depicted ‘loose’ and notorious as he is. Somehow, I interpreted the whole aspect differently, in my opinion, our social realities determine our exposure to various things in life, in this case the guy (who is the notorious, living in slum) has exposure to a number of things well before his age and one of the things also include knowledge on the matter of ‘X.’ I feel there is nothing wrong or right about it, every social reality bring with it a set of good and bad. It just highlights that for me. But yes, not necessarily someone who comes from other side of life will have early exposure to realities of life, opposite can also be true.

      Also, you said that, “an aging person giving sermon of don’ts is cliched and make the entire theme crumbles with sugary moral dose.”
      I feel there is nothing cliched about this, ‘Kadam kaka,’ the aging character just happens to be around the children more than their respective working Father’s or busy home-maker mothers, he gets to observe them and the changes happening around them closely, so he intitates the talk with these youngsters and discussed with them openly. Yes, the conversation is moral but it is not ‘sugary’ rather
      poignantly insightful in my opinion.

      And lastly you added that the daring ends with certain bold sound,audibles, casting of children otherwise the movie is too flacid for the theme.
      I disagree with this view. Had it not been for a strong theme these bold audibles of intercourse would have sounded nothing but vulgar but they haven’t. You are entitled to your view but I’d want to point out if the movie was so ‘flaccid'( as you point out)then Ravi Jadhav and the entire team of Balak Palak would not have been approached by NGO’s, Schools, asking their permission to allow the movie to be screened for adolescents viewing and Psychologist wouldn’t have been supporting the same.

      Please watch the news reports and videos informing about the movie and developments post the release, they might be useful for you.

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