Following the unprecedented success of their low-budget directorial debut, Icche, in 2011, Bengali director duo Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy have become the de facto conscience keeper of audiences. The clash between a contemporary society and traditional ways has been a running theme in their works. Their cinema tends to play to the gallery by pandering to a conservative sensibility usually associated with Bengali television serials.
Seen in the context of their previous films, Haami is surprisingly smarter and leaner, and avoids replicating the regressive gender politics and moral posturing seen in some of their biggest successes.
In Haami, Mukherjee and Gargi Roychowdhury reprise their Ramdhanu (2014) characters, Laltu and Mitali, respectively. In Ramdhanu, Laltu and Mitali Dutta are a harried middle-class couple struggling to get their son admitted to a reputed Kolkata school. In Haami, Laltu and Mitali Biswas are financially stable, but their headache is keeping their Salman Khan-loving son Bhutu (Broto Bandhopadhyay) out of trouble in school. Bhutu becomes the best friend of the newly admitted Chini (Tiyasha Paul). Their friendship, however, brings the two families to the war room after Bhutu gives Chini a peck on the cheek.
The word “Haami” loosely translates into a kiss with a non-sexual connotation. That words and actions mean different things to different people is evident in the film’s early scenes, when the act of kissing is made a casual, everyday thing. There are moments of a father-son kiss, a father-daughter kiss, a female teacher kissing a young boy on the hand and a boy accidentally seeing her parents who are about to kiss. Yet, in a world replete with reports of child sexual abuse in an educational environment, parents are bound to get alarmist over the slightest instance of innocent intimacy.
In Haami, the debate is further put in context by referencing recent events such as the Ryan International School murder case of Gurugram (Chini’s parents have recently shifted from Gurugram to Kolkata and have brought their panic about school regulations along with them), and the GD Birla case of Kolkata.
Haami tactfully touches upon a range of issues surrounding the central theme without making each crucial moment overstay its welcome. The laughs are well-earned, thanks to a wonderful acting ensemble of skilled veterans and handpicked child artists. Contrived melodrama, a recurring trait in Mukherjee and Roy’s cinema, is largely absent from Haami, barring the instance of a song sequence full of stock shots of teary people to help push the point that the moment on screen is particularly emotional.
After a breezy first half that is mostly vignettes establishing the personalities of the students, parents and teachers, Haami’s second half, for a while, threatens to go down the zone of high-minded preaching. But the climactic plot development involving Bhutu and Chini, the two sets of squabbling parents, stressed out teachers and a CCTV camera picks up the film’s spirit. The fat that characterised Mukherjee and Roy’s previous movies has been shed; there are no lazy jokes. Their spirit of being the moral guardian of Bengali cinegoers is, however, intact.