Slick and rich with visual panache, Harami is an unabashedly crowd-pleasing take on Oliver Twist that manages to pack in both substance and style.

The film tells the story of Pachpan (Rizwan Shaikh), a teenage pickpocket living in Mumbai who is regarded as the best in his gang. Working for the intimidating Sagar Bhai (Emraan Hashmi), he is the envy of the rest of the gang of child pickpockets who work for Bhai, plucked from the streets and given a home as long as they adhere to his rules and work in their designated regions. In return, Bhai offers them lodging and pay. To make them easily identifiable, Bhai tattoos each of his pickpockets with a number on their arm, and Pachpan is no different; his name means ‘fifty-five’, and his identity is encapsulated in that number, at least as far as the world is concerned. Pachpan starts to doubt his line of work and develops a sense of concern for his victims, using their stolen ID cards to get a sense of their lives to ensure that he hasn’t caused them too much harm. One night, when he sees that his work has caused great harm to one particular family, his conscience dictates that he should try to do something about ita position that could prove very costly, considering the stringent rules his boss expects his workers to adhere to.

It’s an engaging set-up, and director Shyam Madiraju uses it to craft a film that revels in its spectacle. There are plenty of energetic and fast-paced sequences that document the children’s pickpocketing efforts. Madiraju gives the viewer a good sense of the bustle and intensity of life in Mumbai. It’s gorgeously shot, which aids Madiraju in evoking a strong sense of place in the film, really offering a sense of how minutely small the lives of these children are in the bigger picture of such a relentless city. This spectacle goes well with a narrative, although the story does take a few liberties to maintain the crowd-pleasing, dramatic aesthetic. Nevertheless, it offers a keen and valuable perspective of life in Mumbai for children like Pachpan.

The strength and power of those emotions largely rest on the performances, and they are uniformly excellent, which is especially remarkable considering the cast is largely made up of first-time actors. Rizwan Shaikh is especially impressive since the film is specifically reliant on his central performance, and he carries it off as if he’s been acting for years. Shaikh’s assured performance is just as reliant on the nuance in his facial expression as in his line delivery, and he conveys the inherent conflicts his character faces with aplomb. Dhanshree Patil, who plays Uma, a girl whose father is a victim of Pachpan’s work, is also excellent, and their chemistry on-screen helps to bring an added sense of dramatic resonance to the film.

While the film is always at pains to maintain a wide and commercial appeal, it doesn’t shy away from brutality. Sagar Bhai himself is a very intimidating character, and Emraan Hashmi, who is one of the only experienced actors in the main cast, brings a sense of gravitas to the performance. You can instantly sense the charisma that he exudes and the intimidating energy that keeps the kids in line, as the film doesn’t shy away from his brutal treatment of the disobedient children. This acts as another cog in the narrative machine that enhances the central drama of Pachpan’s story. The consequences of his actions are presented vividly at every turn.

Harami focuses on an Oliver Twist-like depiction of a major city’s criminal underworldespecially the children within that frame. The film isn’t interested in deep character exploration; instead, it tells a story akin to that of Dickens and uses his classic framework to unabashedly highlight the plight of children like Pachpan. Perhaps other hard-hitting films work better to expose similar topics, and perhaps some may find Harami’s familiar tropes and dramatic twists and turns to be a little overwrought and clichéd. Still, there is enough heart here to sell it, and it will, without doubt, work as a touching crowd-pleaser with readily accessible appeal.

Dir: Shyam Madiraju

Scr: Shyam Madiraju, Shahin Khosrovan, Prashant Pandey

Cast: Rizwan Shaikh, Emraan Hashmi, Dhanshree Patil, Harsh Rajendra Rane, Diksha Nisha

DOP: Matt Batchelor, Lasse Ulvedal Tolbøll

Country: USA, India

Year: 2020

Run time: 100 minutes


Harami will have its UK premiere at Hebden Bridge Film Festival (March 19-21st)

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