Eros Now’s straight-to-digital platform production Nimmo has many uncomfortable moments. Hardly surprising, given the subject matter – a pre-pubescent boy’s romantic feelings towards his older neighbour.
Eight-year-old Hemu (Karan Dave) can barely fit into his full-length trousers and yet fancies himself developed enough to be in love. Hemu has fallen for Nimmo (Anjali Patil), his pretty, kindly neighbour who is on the verge of marriage. Nimmo treats Hemu like the little cousin who is always hanging around, and she is unaware of the turmoil in his heart when she bathes him, changes his clothes or pats him to sleep.
For Nimmo, her service to Hemu is proof of her fondness for him. For Hemu, Nimmo’s selfless actions are indelible proof of her consent. Is this how some boys in India develop fundamentally warped attitudes towards women and the idea of romantic love? Meri Nimmo certainly makes the case for it.
As is the convention, Nimmo’s family has already identified a suitable groom. Nimmo blushes many shades of red at the very mention of marriage, but Hemu is blind to her feelings. From his knee-high point of view, Nimmo belongs to him, and his tiny brain and thin body combine to plot against her wedding.
The setting is Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, some distance away from the place where another boy many years ago had similarly fallen in love with an older woman as a part of a painful coming-of-age experience. Paresh Kamdar’s Khargosh (2009), which remains unreleased, was largely shot in Vidisha, and depicted its young protagonist’s feelings towards the older woman as a long and protracted dream that bordered on a nightmare. The discomfort felt in Khargosh at seeing the woman being stared at and eventually sexualised by the boy is purely intentional. Kamdar effectively communicates the boy’s intensely subjective point of view, which helps us make sense of his actions and thoughts and also provides an understanding of the woman’s behaviour.
Nimmo is firmly on Hemu’s side, but not in a way that gives him or the other characters a chance to explain their actions. Hemu’s indulgent widowed mother laughs as though she has received a particularly good WhatsApp forward when Hemu declares that he wants to marry Nimmo. Here is a moment for the mother to sit her boy down and explain the birds and the bees to him, but she is gone with a twirl of her sari.
Nimmo too remains blissfully blind to Hemu’s machinations. The sequence in which she practises her wedding night rituals with Hemu in place of her eventual groom is the moment in which director Rahul Shankyla, working on a story idea and screenplay by Peeyush Shrivastava, could have underlined the sheer madness (and sadness) of Hemu’s quest.
Instead, the scene is played for laughs, as a cute moment of all-round innocence in this corner of India untouched by psychological shading.
Is Nimmo truly clueless or is this how Hemu sees her? The film isn’t skillful enough to suggest whether the events unfold through Hemu’s childish eyes or the filmmaker’s indulgent gaze.
Hemu is smart and resourceful as well as ignorant and petulant as per the script’s requirements. He is forever being fussed over by the older women in his life, and he behaves accordingly. In one eyebrow-raising sequence, he orders Nimmo to sit behind him on his cycle and she meekly gives in – another sequence that unwittingly establishes the entitlement that allows eight-year-old boys to dictate terms to adult women.
Despite its narrative holes, the 90-minute film has been directed with confidence and has identifiable characters. The small-town setting has a warm and lived-in feel. Karan Dave’s strikingly bold and unselfconscious performance makes Hemu an altogether believable, if not likable, character. Anjali Patil too is effective as the catalyst for Hemu’s rite-of-passage to what promises to be an anxiety-ridden adulthood.