When Chaitu first lays his eyes on his half-sister Chimi, he smiles. The next thing he does is reach for her plump cheeks.
Viewers might feel the same way about the pigtailed girl with eyes bigger than her face. If the younger version of Chaitu was the adorable heart of Naal, that position is now occupied by Treesha Thosar’s criminally cute Chimi in Naal 2.
In 2018, the first part of the Marathi movie, directed by Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti and co-written by Yakkanti and Nagraj Manjule, explored Chaitu’s reaction to the knowledge that he has been adopted. Chaitu’s yearning to meet his birth mother Parvati (Deepti Devi) disturbs his equation with his adoptive mother Suman (Devika Daftardar).
In the sequel, Shreenivas Pokale returns as Chaitu. His singsong voice has the suggestion of puberty. But the preteen retains his sense of wonderment, which is transferred wholesale to Chimi.
If an uncle casually – and callously – let Chaitu in on a family secret in the previous film, the same uncle just as casually – and callously – points out Chaitu’s birth father to him. Ajinath (Jitendra Joshi) is married to Parvati. They have two children: Mani (Bhargav Jagtap), who has a developmental disorder, and Chimi.
Chaitu’s new obsession is forging a bond with Chimi, complicated by the fact that she is steadfastly loyal to Mani. Chaitu’s mission unfolds amidst a squabble over inheritance that is brewing in the family of his father Shankar (Nagraj Manjule) and an upcoming panchayat election in which Ajinath is a contestant.
Apart from writing and directing Naal 2, Yakkanti has lensed the pretty-looking movie. The dialogue, by Manjule, captures the lyrical quality of the Marathi spoken in this rural part of Maharashtra. (The film has been released with English subtitles.)
The sequel is more loosely structured and diffuse than its predecessor. If a competition of sorts develops between Chaitu and Mani for Chimi’s attention, Ajinath sees in Chaitu the healthy son that he might have had if he didn’t have to give him up.
Among the themes tackled in a sequel that sometimes works far too hard to justify its existence is the treatment of vulnerable children and the property rights of women. The spirit of accommodation, as well as the progressive depiction of the traditional nuclear family unit, which drives Naal 2 results in a welcome lack of melodrama, especially over the matter of Chaitu’s adoption. But the reaction of the two sets of parents to the situation is underexplored.
The episodic quality to the relationship between Chaitu, Chimi and Mani results in strong scenes that don’t always add up to a satisfying whole. After a seemingly endless stream of montages, the 130-minute movie snaps into focus in its extended climax. The box of tissues that was needed for the moving closing scenes in Naal is required once again in Naal 2’s final minutes.
Despite greater attention on the young cast, the grown-ups are lovely: the luminous Devika Daftardar, Nagraj Manjule as the laconic father, Ajinath as the concerned parent, and Deepti Devi as Mani’s understanding mother. The child actors similarly turn out remarkably mature performances.
Shreenivas Pokale and Bhargav Jagtap have a compelling lack of self-consciousness, which lends credibility to their individual and shared moments. Treesha Thosar is so delightful that her occasionally overstated precocity is forgiven.