Sikander is an earnest and well-intentioned film. Set in Kashmir, it looks at how violence and the Kafkaesque politics and power games of the state have frayed the lives of its children.
However, these urgent and immensely complicated issues required a sophisticated and layered rendering, which writer-director Piyush Jha fails to provide. Unfortunately, the good intentions don’t translate into good cinema.
Sikander, played by Parzan Dastur, is a 14 year-old-orphan living with his aunt and uncle in a small town in Kashmir. All he wants to do is play football.
One day, on his way to school, Sikander finds a gun. He picks it up to ward off school bullies but slowly, Sikander becomes embroiled in a nightmarish tussle between warring militants, a political leader and the Army.
Eventually, Sikander, an innocent boy who dreams of someday buying his aunt a washing machine, is forced into violence.
The story had the potential for both power and suspense. But Jha’s disjointed screenplay doesn’t work either as thriller or human drama. The narrative cuts constantly between the many players but it doesn’t give them room to develop. The characters never become emotionally persuasive.
Soon after Sikander finds the gun, he meets a militant leader, who trains him to shoot. Sikander is an enthusiastic participant and even agrees to kill.
He keeps trying to shoot the target and is thwarted only because his friend Nasreen, played by Ayesha Kapur, stands in front of the man.
How did the meek boy transform so quickly into an assassin? We don’t know. The film’s second half works better than the first but Sikander is undermined by its specious logic.
After a big climactic twist, when you try and connect the dots, nothing fits. Parzan and Ayesha work hard but unfortunately neither is a good enough performer yet to shore up this uneven plot. Ayesha, who made an award-winning debut in Black, is disappointingly awkward.
What does grab you are the heart-wrenchingly beautiful Kashmiri locales that we rarely see onscreen these days. Jha ably captures the beauty of this bloodied land. Eventually then, Sikander is heart-felt but unsuccessful. I’m going with two and half stars for the film.