‘Khayali Pulao’, directed by Tarun Dudeja, opens up in a classroom — a pure contradiction to the entire short film’s subject, which is sports. In the first scene itself, we see Prajakta Koli from Mostlysane, carried away by her thoughts while the teacher calls out her name praising her for
the best performance in the class test. And there we set a belief that Asha Dhanda (played by
Prajakta) is a brilliant student. Right after we see a school sports teacher — Kharab Sir (played
by Yashpal Sharma) enter the classroom to address a competition that is going to be held on
the Republic day, and participation is welcomed.
The story, set up in a village of Haryana, starts to set up when Manju (played by Anushka
Sharma) intervenes Asha’s conviction to join the sports team. The scene totally depicts the lack
of knowledge in oocytes the village people still hold. As Manju quotes - “The girls who
participate in sports get their hymen loose”/ “Khel mei bhaag lene wali ladkiyo ki seal tut jaaya
kare”. However, one thing which is fairly shown of an evolving Haryana to let girls participate in
sports, is when Asha reaches home after school and is appreciated by parents to get herself
admitted into it. But, at the same time, the parents are against wearing jeans for another girl and
doubting if one would marry her. This shows the evolving complexities of our society which is
still trying to mend issues as well as hold up them.
The driving factor starts to play when Asha is called up for the trials to get selected for the team,
but fails to do so because of her inabilities of sportsperson instinct. In the scenes, it is shown
her inability to run resulting in puking, or catching a ball lacking in reflexes. For which, as a
collective result, Kharab Sir tells her to discontinue her participation for the Republic Day sports
competition. He also addresses her saying that he cannot teach her the sport despite her
conviction; reason being an obvious lesser pay than a competitive sports teacher at school. And
that’s when she rushes home after school to learn finessing her reflexes from the Internet —
ricocheting a ball. The next day she requests her teacher to ricochet a stuff ball, made by her
mother, for her. There too, she is told by the teacher that she shouldn’t inflect herself towards
sports and only focus on her brilliant brain — conveying and contradictorily satisfying the
meaning of a quote shown at the start of the film: Before drawing boundaries on others, ask
yourself, who put you in charge of boundaries?
Then after, on the Republic day, she is called by Kharab Sir to play as a substitute in the team in
replacement of a sick player. She immediately accepts the offer despite anything that she has to
do to be a part of the team. In the next scene, we see her going head over heels for the
playwear. And outside the room, Kharab Sir tells a teacher what kind of ‘Khayali Pulao’ or
‘Castles in the air’ this girl is making. Post match, after losing it, we see Asha Dhande being
scolded By Kharab Sir for asking to take the playwear home and not bothering about losing a
match. This depicts how some aspirational teens just want to be a part of a desirable conviction
despite anything that is withholding them.
The direction of the entire film is a sweet ride with a depiction of small dreams conversing
accurately in a Haryanvi accent. The Unpaused (2020) director is a master in catching and
displaying bigger subjects with miniscule stories set up around the minute life of ordinary
people. The composition and scene blocking is a matter of finesse — as when Asha is called by
Kharab Sir for a substitute, she stands behind him and he is addressing other players. After
which he turns around to address Asha for the substitution, and all this while the camera is on a
tripod. The cinematography imbued is entirely contributing to the sport oriented films that we
have watched on screen, yet a brilliant job for some of the shots that you will witness in the film
— in short, simple yet elegant.
What is soothing and fascinating about this film is its folkloric music and songs that start to play
in the righteous moments. And finally yet importantly, the editing done by Pooja Pillai and
Manish Sharma enhances the overall collective work in pre-production and production, making
this film a must watch.