Review: Tahan (2008)


Tahan (2008)

Directed by: Santosh Sivan | 95 minutes | drama | Actors: Victor Banerjee, Purav Bhandare, Rahul Bose, Ankush Dubey, Rasika Dugal, Rahul Khanna, Anupam Kher, Sana Shaikh, Dheirya Sonecha

Santosh Sivan has more than earned his spurs in the film world. The Indian has been working as a cinematographer since 1989, mainly in Bollywood. One of his most famous films is ‘Bride and Prejudice’ (2004). With ‘Halo’ (1997), his directorial debut about the special bond between a young, motherless girl and her puppy, he immediately gave his calling card. ‘Malli’ (1998) is his most successful print so far. In that film, a young girl searches for a way to get her deaf-mute boyfriend to talk again. It earned Sivan a nomination in the election for best foreign film during the presentation of the Independent Spirit Awards in 2001. In his latest film, ‘Tahaan’ (2008), elements from his earlier work come together. The first screenings, including at the Pusan ​​International Film Festival, were already a great success. ‘Tahaan’ is a heartwarming story about a young boy from Kashmir and his search for his best friend; the young donkey that his father gave him.

But ‘Tahaan’ is much more. A story about unconditional friendship, but above all a story about contemporary Kashmir and the terrorism that flourishes in the border area. Tahaan (Purav Bhandare) and his donkey Birbal are inseparable. Perhaps that’s because the animal is the boy’s only memento of his father, who has been untraceable for a long time. When his grandfather (Victor Banerjee) dies, Tahaan’s deaf-mute mother (Sarika) and his teenage sister (Sana Shiekh) are unable to make ends meet. Tahaan considers going to work, with Birbal as his faithful companion. But before he has made his idea known, his mother has sold the ‘superfluous’ household goods to the shady local feudal lord (Rahul Khanna). Birbal also had to leave, much to Tahaan’s chagrin. He decides to look for the animal – his best friend – and finds its new owner, the merchant Mr. Daar (Anupam Kher), who is on his way home. He decides to follow him to his village, hoping to retrieve his donkey. But a lot of danger lurks along the way. For example, what about Idrees (Ankush Dubey), who recruits boys to smuggle weapons…?

It is clear from ‘Tahaan’ that director Sivan is a director of photography by birth, because the film looks really beautiful. Those who only know Kashmir from the images from the news will be amazed by the beauty that the area houses. As in his previous films, the director manages to pack countless relevant issues into a seemingly simple story in ‘Tahaan’ – although you have to be alert to pick them all up. A scene that cannot be ignored is the one in which a group of children from Kashmir in the street reenact the military conflicts by way of play. More than in any other scene, Sivan demonstrates that he understands and masters the themes he deals with in his story. The relaxed way in which he tells his story is reminiscent of the work of the Iranian grandmasters Abbas Kiarostami and Majid Majidi. Sivan handles the camera in a very pleasant, intuitive way. He is supported by the child actor Purav Bhandare, who moves just as naturally in the story, who wraps the viewer around his finger in no time. The other actors are also convincing, although Anupam Kher strikes here and there in his role as merchant Daar.

What sets ‘Tahaan’ apart from most films from India – especially Bollywood – is that Sivan doesn’t need big stars or excessive music to give his film the attention it deserves. Like a true artist, Santosh Sivan enchants his viewer with dazzling images of the mountainous environment of Kashmir, using his camera as a brush, as it were. Sivan also subtly shows what is going on in the area, without misleading the viewer. For example, Tahaan is not portrayed as an innocent and naive boy, but he knows all too well what he is doing when he is asked by Idrees to do something for him. He consciously makes the choice that getting his best friend Birbal back is more than worth the risk. ‘Tahaan’ is an intelligent film, made with love and care, where young and old can dream away.

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