I never moved when I was growing up. I knew people who moved once or twice, and then I knew others in military families and the like who would come and go almost annually. In a small town with a small school, that made a difference. I always felt bad for those kids, since they were constantly making and losing friends, especially in the age before Facebook and the advent of eternal digital communication. And I can appreciate how hard it is to be the new kid in the new place.
But just because someone is in an unfortunate position doesn’t give them the right to be a jerk.
Killa (The Fort)
Director: Avinash Arun
Chinmay is a seventh grader who has recently left the big city of Pune and headed into a new rural-ish area with his mother. It’s a culture shock, to be sure, but clearly this has happened before and will happen again. Moving is just part of their life, even though it’s hard on them both. But it’s particularly difficult on a growing kid, who has to leave all of his friends behind and start anew in seventh grade. And though I don’t know if middle school children in India are as needlessly cruel as they are in the US (the constant attempts to put a gasoline-soaked rag into a dog’s butt would suggest they are), being the outcast is never fun. And when the teacher introduces him as an intellectual prodigy, it just further makes him stand out.
But despite that, he finds friendship (of sorts) in some troublemaker types who are more interested in picking up crabs and having bike races than studying. It’s worth noting that the conflict here does not come from Chinmay’s decision to forgo his studies, and whether he’s hanging out with them or not he seems to be equally competent in the classroom. Instead, it’s a conflict about the friends themselves as well as Chinmay’s relationship to his mother.
But Killa‘s fundamental problem is that Chinmay is not a likeable protagonist. He spends most of the film’s 110 minute runtime looking slightly forlorn. Sometimes he’s happy, other times he’s just straight up emotionless, but usually it’s just almost-melancholy as he goes through his life being a bland human being. The world around him is so full of intrigue and color and life and he’s just got none of it. And considering he’s supposed to have an emotional arc (I hate it here! to I hate it less! to I hate it again! etc.), it causes some serious disconnect. I never once cared about Chinmay. Literally never. And while Chinmay the character takes the blame for a lot of that, it’s the performance that really kills it. I don’t usually like harping on poor child performances, but the film hinges on his ability to emote, and he can’t hold up his end of the bargain. That half-pout isn’t sympathetic; it’s just pathetic.
On the other hand, I did care about his mother, which actually made me care about Chinmay even less. His mother, who is constantly shuttled from place to place for work, lost her husband (his father) a year ago. It’s something that gets mentioned every so often, but it’s not really a cloud hanging over the narrative. It’s just a fact. But now Chinmay’s mother has to deal with him and her job, and her new job in their new town runs by some different rules, and those rules get her into trouble. That made me sad, because this is a woman who is trying to do what’s right but also gets screwed over by the system at large. And once she’s done dealing with that, she has to go home and pay attention to her manner-less son? Not cool. Not cool at all. He makes her life harder and doesn’t really offer much in return, other than lip.
But even when Chinmay was being pouty and annoying, I couldn’t deny just how beautiful his surroundings were. I’m convinced that the purpose of the narrative was less to tell a story than to show off scenery. I can’t say I really understood the layout of the town, so it may have been that things that seemed very far away were right there, but it did seem like he would travel long distances not because he needed to but because it would result in a gorgeous shot. And to be honest, I’m okay with that. If it was all in service of the shot, I would’ve rather the film dispensed with some of the less interesting moments (particularly in the school) and been a bit shorter, but I can’t deny that it was exciting to see each new location. I would love to go and visit those places.
So despite my dislike of Chinmay and my disinterest in everything about him, I still enjoyed Killa on the whole. The other characters were interesting, and even if I wasn’t a fan of most of the children, at least they were all different and brought unique perspectives to any given situation. Combined with the amazing backdrops, it makes for a film that by all appearances should really be much better than it is. It’s unfortunate, then, that the protagonist is such dead weight.