Who, exactly, is an adult? Are the rich better and are the educated actually educated? And most of all, what does one have to do to relieve himself in private? These are some of the questions that eight-year-old Pichku (Tathastu) tries to answer in Nila Madhab Panda’s upcoming film Halkaa.

Also starring Ranvir Shorey and Paoli Dam, the film will be released on August 31, 2018. It is a simple yet colourful story from the slums, Panda told Scroll.in. “It is about an eight-year-old child who does not want to take off his pants in front of others as his whole community opts for open defecation,” Panda said. “It is basically about a child and his questions about adults.”

The film had its world premiere at the 21st Montreal International Children’s Film Festival in March, where it won the Grand Prix Award. The Shiv Nadar Foundation production won another Grand Prix award for the best film at the Kinolub Festival for Children and Youth in Poland.

The film’s origins can be traced back to Panda’s unpleasant encounters with stomach infections, the filmmaker said. “I have gone through severe stomach infections very regularly,” Panda said. “I am very fond of food and travel often and wherever I go, I start eating. I used to have so much of antibiotics. Antibiotics have become very common for all of us. But the basic reason of an infection is what is residing in your food and environment. I wanted to tell that story.”

Halkaa (2018). Image credit: Shiv Nadar Foundation.
Halkaa (2018). Image credit: Shiv Nadar Foundation.

The film will depict the colours of the underbelly, rather than its filth, Panda added. “We usually look at these issues for health and environment reasons,” Panda said. “What I have tried to deal with is a simple thought. That is why I chose the slums. But my film is not like Salaam Bombay!, Lion or Slumdog Millionaire, where you see dirt, filth and drug peddlers. In this film, you will see colour and beauty of the people who make your city. They make up half the population of a country, but are still treated like filth.” `

Halkaa is Panda’s third children’s film after his acclaimed debut I Am Kalam (2011) and Jalpari (2012), and that is with good reason, the filmmaker explained. “Innocence is dying with the fast-growing world and its progressiveness,” Panda said. “Only a child can bring that innocence.”

Halkaa (2018)|Image credit: Shiv Nadar Foundation.
Halkaa (2018)|Image credit: Shiv Nadar Foundation.

The film also tackles the prevailing class divide in India through the prism of comedy. “Be it the president of America or the Prime Minister of India, when it is time for nature’s call, they will go,” Panda said. “There is no class divide about it. But we have somehow become like animals.”

The film was shot on real locations in Delhi. “We finished all the antibiotics at a chemist’s shop,” the filmmaker joked. “We shot at the biggest dump yard in Delhi, which is one of the worst locations you can ever imagine. It is a 14-year-old dump yard. My major worry was to shoot the film with children.”

So how did the filmmaker deal with the icky bits? “Doing this film was not easy,” Panda said. “I wanted to show the beauty of Delhi. Transforming such issues into entertainment is difficult. I tried to bring onto the screen the high points of everyday life. It then becomes easier for people to understand. That way they would also be watching something they want. Otherwise who wants to watch shit? The movie is about shit and we are talking about it.”

Cinema is all about entertainment, Panda declared: “My films are reflections of the society, but at the end of the day we need to make it fun, because somebody is spending their two hours on it.”