Movie review: 'Zokkomon'

"Zokkomon," a lively and engaging family film from the Disney unit in India, not only has a light, fanciful touch and superior production design but also more substance and cohesiveness than much Bollywood fare.

A musical number, which accompanies a young boy, Kunal (Darsheel Safary), on a train trip from a big city to a remote village, foreshadows what's in store for him. The lyrics state that it is not a good thing that time stands still in this community, a place whose inhabitants have no interest in the larger world. Such stagnation has allowed corruption, superstition and cruelty to flourish, embodied in Deshraj (Anupam Kher), the pompous, despotic headmaster of the local school

Unfortunately for bright and spunky Kunal, Deshraj, a homely man with a bad wig, happens to be his uncle, who has yanked him — for his own evil reasons — out of a private school where the boy had been happy since the accidental death of his parents three years earlier.

Deshraj soon takes Kunal back to the city, abandoning him at a carnival, then returning home to proclaim his nephew dead and thereby lay claim to his inheritance.

Kunal's adventures now begin in earnest, starting with a fortuitous meeting with a gorgeous street artist (Manjuri Fadnis) who instills in Kunal the belief that "you are as strong as you think you are." It will be put to the test when circumstances return Kunal back to the village.

Luckily for him, a derelict Gothic mansion in the forest in which he takes refuge is not actually haunted but inhabited by a reclusive scientist, a big bearded man (also played by Kher). The scientist sees in the boy the instrument of revenge against his native town, which has reacted to his gift of knowledge by torching his home. In turning Kunal — via special effects and scientific wizardry — into Zokkomon, a veritable Superboy, the youth also becomes a potential liberator.

Director Satyajit Bhatkai has brought plenty of energy to an imaginative and thoughtful script by many hands. Safary could not be more appealing or Fadnis lovelier or warmer. But the film's tour de force is Kher, in his dual roles, as a villain who could scarcely be more amusingly repulsive and as a brilliant scientist redeemed from bitterness.

"Zokkomon" is a treat.

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