Produced by Riteish Deshmukh (of all people!), Balak Palak is a sweet exploration of growing up in the 1980s seen through the eyes of four teenagers in small-town Maharshatra. The initials (BP) allude to the central enterprise of the kids in the film – that of watching a BP (blue picture), after being egged on by a slightly older friend.
The film reminds you of those clumsy days when you smuggled in cassettes of recommended movies, in school bags and under t-shirts having managed to discreetly rent it from a video parlour, averting the stares of aunties and their kids. It brings a smile to your face when you remember an enterprising soul who had smuggled out an entire VCR from his home (wrapped in a slightly damp yellow towel) for a group screening. The consequent ‘awakening’ that often made girlfriends and boyfriends out of mere friends is done quite well and is very real. You start noticing newly married couples quietly excusing themselves from social functions and now have a fair sense of what they are doing.
The film skews a little towards the reactions of the boys, one of whom falls in love with a buxom older neighbor and even professes his love for her. His awkward attempts to impress his crush seem to have happened to someone in your immediate vicinity, if not you directly. It would have been interesting if the film had tried to trace the fantasies and thoughts of the girls too. After they ‘get to know things’, the boys start chasing girls and the girls develop a revulsion for the ‘thing’. Various versions of this theme have come in films and BP follows the same template. They could have done it from the girls’ POV and broken fresh ground.
However, instead of wishing what BP could have been, it would be better to laud BP for what it is. The four lead players act brilliantly, with maturity and restraint. The awkwardness, the innocence, the frustration and the awakening are brought out superbly for which a lot of credit must go to the director (and writer) Ravi Jadhav.
What didn’t work for me at all is the rather preachy ending – a veritable moral science class – where a sermonizing uncle makes a long-winded attempt to make children bond with their parents. The cluelessness of parents in understanding their children is well depicted in the film and one wishes this last bit of unreal ‘lecturing’ could have been left out.
At the end of the day, Balak Palak is a very good film on the growing up years and how they shape the rest of our relationships. Hormones do get in the way of friendships. Sometimes, they end up in a mess. And sometimes, it is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.