Cast: Parvin Dabas, Suhasini Mulay, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Harsh Mayar, Lehar Khan and Krishang Trivedi
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
In spite of its flaws, of which there are many, "Jalpari: The Desert Mermaid" wins your heart with its simple fluid storytelling and characters who seem to have taken birth in the deserted village in Haryana, long before the camera was switched on.
There is a fascinating play of light and shade in Deepak Venkateshan's screenplay. It manfully tries to incorporate several genres and perhaps ends up being neither here nor there.
But the heart, oh that wondrous creation, is constantly in the right place. Director Nila Madhab Panda takes two city-bred children Shreya (Lehar Khan) and Sam (Krishang Trivedi) with their father (Parvin Dabas) and grandmother(Suhasini Mulay) to their ancestral village, a dry godforsaken land of non-productivity suspiciously bereft of girl children.
From there, the film follows a scattered craggy path culminating in a finale which doesn't quite hold up, but nonetheless offers us a heartwarming insight into the harsh reality of life in many parts of rural India where a female child is still considered a liability.
While applauding the attempt to yoke a children's adventure story into a sombre issue, we must also stop and wonder at the film's end-narration where we are told that if Dev (Parvin Dabas) had stayed back in his village, his little girl may not have been born.
There are some strained attempts to pitch Dev's children's progressive upbringing against the backwater superstitious village. Shreya calls her father by his first name and is proudly declared "on a par with any boy". This isn't really the kind of gender equality that we should be espousing in our prejudiced society.
Girls need their identity. They don't need to behave like boys to be given gender equality. It's naive to expect the two genders to behave uniformly and thereby achieve equality for the girl child.