Bittersweet Indian Coming-of-Age Story is a Treasure
KILLA (2014)/Marathi With English Subtitles
Director: Arun Avinash
Street Date: Street Date, April 4, 2017/KINO LORBER
Every once in a while, writing about film starts to feel like a chore. Movies pile up, deadlines loom, not all of the movies seem worth the time I invest in them. But then I’m given the opportunity to watch a movie like Killa and I am so grateful to do what I do. Killa was never screened near me and it would almost certainly have escaped my notice forever if not for this new Kino Lorber DVD release. And what a worthy pick! Killa is near perfect filmmaking.
While still in film school, Arun Avinash co-wrote the story on which Killa is based, inspired by his own itinerant childhood. Avinash’s proxy is 11 year old Chinmay Kale (Archit Deodhar). Chinmay is a quiet, serious boy; an excellent student, but anxious and a bit standoffish. His mother (Amruta Subhash) is a government official whose just been transferred from the city of Pune to a small seaside town in the rugged Konkan region on India’s western coast. Chinmay’s father died in the not too distant past, still casting a pall over mother and son’s life together. In his new home Chinmay encounters the small dramas, triumphs, and terrors of childhood. He slowly builds friendships with school royalty (Yuvraj, the son of a wealthy businessman) and his followers – particulary Yuvraj’s chief toady, Bandya (Parth Bhalerao). Chinmay experiments with being one of the “bad” kids – writing swear words on the boys’ room wall and helping Yuvraj (Gaurish Gawade) cheat. He becomes harder and harder for his mother to understand. The comfortable intimacy that Mrs. Kale has had with her compliant son is evaporating as he is replaced by a stubborn, argumentative preteen.
The sea is swollen, water pours off of everything. For a child unaccustomed to the region, this is both enticing and threatening. Chinmay is afraid of the sea, but will need to brave these waters (in more than one sense) if he is ever to feel at home here.
The climax involves a bicycle race with the kind of high stakes adults don’t understand, followed by Chinmay and his friends exploring an abandoned fort. (Note: “killa” is the Marathi word for fort.) When Chinmay’s friends leave him behind he is both frightened by the eerie, unfamiliar surroundings and deeply wounded by having been abandoned. It’s the sort of trauma that children understand well, even if Chinmay is never in any real danger.
Killa takes places during monsoon season and many of the scenes were shot outside, during downpours. The sea is swollen, water pours off of everything. For a child unaccustomed to the region, this is both enticing and threatening. Chinmay is afraid of the sea, but will need to brave these waters (in more than one sense) if he is ever to feel at home here. Avinash Arun embraced the challenge of filming in heavy rain and the results are beautiful and sometimes otherwordly. Chinmay’s adventure in the fort, in particular, has a dreamlike quality. Arun is also masterful with his interior shots. Inside the Kales’ small home a golden light baths everything. It’s a warm, homey glow that contrasts sharply with the untamed world outside.
As for the performances in Killa, they are nearly flawless. Subhash and Deodhar are utterly believable as mother and son; both with open, kind faces. Chinmay’s friends are the same kinds of young boys you know from countless coming of age movies like Stand By Me and The Sandlot. Bhalerao’s Bandya is especially winsome as the small, scrappy hanger-on of the crowd. A subtle themes of Killa is how geography shapes character. These boys who have grown up next to the sea, climbing cliffs and catching snakes, have a fearlessness about them that Chinmay does not yet possess.
One of the chief frustrations of childhood is the lack of control. “Can’t you cancel this transfer?” Chinmay asks his mother. But of course, she can’t, and that means Chinmay must adjust to a new home, new town, new peers- some of them less than welcoming. All Chinmay can do is decide if he will continue to hang back and wish for Pune, or if he’ll dive into this new terrain with all of its risks and rewards.