In a world which is so complex and contorted by ambitions, goals and guile, 25-year-old Ahaan comes across as refreshingly simple and uncomplicated. His dream in life is: “I want my money. I want to buy my flat. I want shaadi. I want wife. I want two children. One boy. One girl.” Notice the emphasis on “my money”. Ahaan has Down syndrome.
Nikhil Pherwani’s debut directorial venture Ahaan stands out for its treatment of the film which keeps the focus on disability. Yet it does not ask for sympathy. Simply for acceptance and inclusion of people as they are. The person who makes the whole experience believable and endearing is Abuli Mamaji, who plays Ahaan. He is probably the first Indian actor with Down syndrome to appear on screen. One can imagine the work that was needed to get Abuli to memorize and deliver dialogues or act. Kudos to the director and actor for doing it so well. For it is Ahaan’s smile, his incomplete sentences, and his garbled speech which make the film a heart-warming watch.
The film works also because of how it offset’s Ahaan’s innocence with Ozzy’s (Arif Zakaria) obsessive compulsive traits. Ozzy is Ahaan’s neighbour, who is very finicky about order and cleanliness. Needless to add, the sight of Ahaan walking with shoes over his carpet, or spilling biryani over his sofa, drives him crazy.
Ozzy has problems of his own. And big ones. You can see it in his style of having a bath or arranging his shirts. Ozzy’s OCD drives his wife Anu (Niharika Singh) nuts and she decides to desert him. The situation leads to an unlikely friendship between Ahaan and Ozzy. Where Ahaan understands all along that he is being used. “Tum bahut chalu ho,” he tells Ozzy. Rajit Kapoor in a very effective cameo tries to resolve Ozzy’s OCD in some hilarious ways. Will he eat vada pao from the street vendor?
Ahaan’s parents are a caring mother (Shilpa Mehta) who makes him deliver cakes and brownies in the neighbourhood, and an over-protective father (Kaizaad Kotwal) who wants to shield him from the cruelty of mainstream life. But Ahaan doesn’t want to remain under their shadow. He clearly wants a job of his own choice. He wants his own money. And he also has feelings for a girl in the neighbourhood Onilla (Plabita Borthakur).
We often dismiss people like Ahaan, thinking they don’t understand or have feelings. But Ahaan’s sensitivity stands out remarkably in two scenes. One is his reaction when an insensitive Arif Zakaria calls him “an adult with the brain of a child”. And the second is when he is offered some juice to calm down. “No juice. Job.” is his stubborn response.
You realise how shallow our lives are when you see Arif Zakaria coaching Abuli Mamaji to impress a girl, or to give a job interview. And when Ahaan reacts with characteristic candour and child-like simplicity, you cannot but feel how needlessly complicated we have made our lives. People like Ahaan teach us to go back to the basics. When you don’t think convolutedly before you speak. When you say what is on your mind. And simply share your joy unabandoned. Life would be so much more simple. And happier.