Khari and Biscuit are an orphaned brother-sister duo living in the slums of Mumbai. Khari (Vedashree Khadilkar) is blind. She believes that she is a princess living in a castle and Shah Rukh Khan is a friend. Her brother Biscuit (Adarsh Kadam) has shielded his sister from reality and is forever describing their mundane experiences with the most colourful words.
A turning point in Sanjay Jadhav’s new Marathi film Khari Biscuit comes when Khari demands to watch the cricket World Cup. Biscuit runs from pillar to post to make this wish come true, and as the trailer suggests, resorts to crime to please his sister.
“More than a brother-sister story, the film is about unconditional love,” Jadhav told Scroll.in. “There’s always someone in life you will love unconditionally disregarding their lifestyle, thinking and weaknesses. It can be your daughter, husband or girlfriend.” Khari Biscuit, also starring Sanjay Narvekar and Sushant Shelar, will be released by Zee Studios on November 1.
Jadhav was working as a cinematographer on a project when writer Sanket Mane pitched him a one-line idea of a “blind girl wanting to see the world cup”. Jadhav was hooked: “Then, the layers on top of that began to come. Her wanting to watch the world cup should be difficult, because not only is she blind but also poor. So she lives in the slums. And she is orphaned. She has a brother who’s not too old. He is of her age, and he creates everything for her. Ultimately we wanted a Bambaiyya title like maska pav or chai pav. An associate suggested khari biscuit, and we went with that.” The screenplay is by Sachin Mote, and Chetan Saudane has written the dialogue.
Recent examples of Indian films involving destitute children include the National Film Award winners Kaaka Muttai (2015), originally in Tamil and remade in Marathi as Half Ticket (2016), and the Hindi film Dhanak (2016), which follows a young girl taking her blind brother on a long journey to meet Shah Rukh Khan. Despite such stories being commonplace, Jadhav found Khari Biscuit to be unique.
“What drew me to the story was the various ways in which the brother created an alternate reality for the sister,” he said. “So she hasn’t seen the seven wonders of the world. The brother doesn’t even know what the seven wonders are, but he manages to introduce them to her.”
Directing children on the streets of Mumbai was not easy, Jadhav said. Most of the shooting was done around the traffic signal at Nana Chowk, “where cars are coming from every direction and the kids have to beg”, Shivaji Park, Mahim Dargah and Mahim fishermen’s colony. “A part was also shot at a railway station,” Jadhav added. “The railway station is not a place where you will let go of your kids’ hands. But somehow, we managed. Secondly, it is difficult to get police permission to shoot on Mumbai’s streets. Usually you get only Saturday and Sunday. With us, however, the police was very helpful and cooperative.”
Another issue was that the children were not trained actors. A three-and-a-half-month workshop was organised before shooting began. “The girl was not old enough to read and understand Marathi,” Jadhav said. “She could only read the alphabet. To make her memorise the lines took time.”
Khari Biscuit is Jadhav’s ninth feature film as a director. He has also been a cinematographer on Marathi and Hindi films. This is the first time has directed children in lead roles.
“Directing itself is difficult, period, directing children is more difficult,” Jadhav pointed out. “With grown-up actors, they often take responsibility for their own characters and give suggestions as to how to do them differently. Here, the responsibility was all yours. But one good thing was that with kids, even if you have your own direction in mind, which is manipulative and calculating, kids can surprise you. At the end of the day, their impulsive acting feels more spontaneous and natural, and then I follow them in their direction.”
Jadhav’s films include crime thrillers, political dramas and slice-of-life romances. Genre-hopping is par for the course as “Marathi audiences are very choosy,” he said. “The Marathi audience will readily see a Salman Khan movie over a Marathi movie,” Jadhav added. “The returns for a Marathi film are not high. Since no commercially successful formula has been established, directors and producers keep experimenting, which is good, because we get to see new kinds of stories. Fifteen years ago, my first film Checkmate was a crime thriller that didn’t work. Today, the audience says, make more films like Checkmate.”
Having worked in both the Hindi and Marathi film industries, Jadhav said that low budgets have keep Marathi cinema behind. “A dance or an action sequence for a Hindi film costing an average of Rs 20 crore is just Rs three crore, which is the budget of an entire Marathi film,” Jadhav said. “Yet, audiences keep saying, why isn’t a Marathi film like a Hindi film. To execute your vision, you need the right budget. Not all films do Sairat-like business. Once they start doing so, Marathi cinema will grow.”