There have been path-breaking films on the plight of children. Children affected by poverty/conflict. Films like THE CHILDREN OF HEAVEN, TURTLES CAN FLY and CITY OF GOD have left an indelible impression on millions of minds. These films, says director Piyush Jha, have also been his inspiration. Jha’s SIKANDAR looks at the conflict in Kashmir, without taking sides. That’s because the focus is on a kid who becomes a pawn in a dangerous game played by politicians and terrorists.

One has often read in newspapers and also watched television programs that highlight the fact that kids are being used in wars waged in the name of religion. SIKANDAR tackles this theme as well. SIKANDAR has a refreshingly different story to tell, since themes like the one here have rarely been told on the Hindi screen before. But how one wishes the screenplay would do justice to the thought. For, the film holds your attention in bits and spurts, not in totality. Also, the culmination to this story falls short of expectations. In a nutshell, SIKANDAR had the potential to strike a chord, but it leaves your hand midway.  Sikandar [Parzaan Dastur] is a 14-year-old schoolboy in Kashmir. Ever since his parents were killed by militants 10 years back, he has lived with his aunt and uncle, in a small town in Kashmir. One day, on his way home from a school football match, Sikandar finds a gun lying on the path. Despite admonishments by his newly-made school friend, the 14-year-old Nasreen [Ayesha Kapur], Sikandar picks up the gun and thus begins a journey into the darker side of his nature. The quiet yet strong Nasreen becomes Sikandar’s conscience keeper. She tries to dissuade him from giving in to the lure of the gun. However, all is not what it seems. Sikandar gets embroiled further and further in situations beyond his control. As layer upon layer unravels, it becomes clear that Sikandar is the innocent victim in a game being played out between the militants, the peace bartering politicians and the religious heads of the little Kashmiri town. You realize that SIKANDAR is not the usual film on terrorism at the very outset, when a kid kicks a football and a bomb explodes. The story takes off the moment Parzaan finds a gun and the sequences thereafter keep the viewer involved, especially the scenes between Parzaan and Arunoday Singh [the terrorist]. The point at which the first half ends makes you look forward to the second hour, but it doesn’t. The problem is that the story suddenly moves into the suspense-thriller genre and that robs the film of its originality. Even before you’re told who the culprit is, you’ve guessed it already thanks to the been-there-seen-that kind of situations that this film relies on.  Sure, a few sequences do leave an impact – like the one when a blast occurs during the pre-climax – but the screenplay isn’t cohesive at this juncture. To cite an instance, the army officer hands a gun to Sikandar to avenge his father’s death. Now this looks implausible. Also, the politician’s daughter has a change of heart in the end, which is so difficult to absorb. What director Piyush Jha needs to be complimented for presenting the viewers the scenic beauty of Kashmir. The DOP presents some stunning visuals of Kashmir to the viewer and that’s something you carry back home. Parzaan acts quite well, but Ayesha doesn’t work. Also, the accent is hard to ignore. Madhavan does a decent job. Sanjay Suri underplays his part beautifully. This is amongst his finest works. Arunoday Singh makes an impressive debut. Also, he’s blessed with a strong personality to carry off this role.

On the whole, SIKANDAR doesn’t quite hit the goal.

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