Sniff: A charming kiddie flick adults can enjoy as well!

Amole Gupte’s Sniff opens with delectable images of spices and food in the tradition of a cookery show. It lingers on and lovingly until we’ve at least theoretically caught a whiff.

The point behind this sensory exercise is to bring attention to someone who cannot — neither in reality, nor imagination.

Quite a stumbling block for anyone, all the more if you are an 8 year old hailing from a family of proud pickle makers.

Almost akin to being blind, laments the Sardar boy Sunny Gill’s (Khusmeet Gill) disgruntled grandma (a reliably warm Surekha Sikri).

Grownups can say the most callous stuff at times, yet mean no harm. Gupte doesn’t kick up a fuss over it. He also realises a child’s disappointment isn’t paddled by cynicism.

Where many would see Sunny’s anosmia-triggered desolation as an invitation to shove in maudlin drama, he strokes it with a gentleness that one has now come to associate with his filmmaking (Taare Zameen Par, Stanley Ka Dabba or Hawaa Hawaai).

Devoid of artifice and manipulations, Sniff tells a straightforward story where Sunny’s olfactory woes are quickly put to rest following a freak accident in the chemistry laboratory.

A great deal of icky, flubber-like material is sneezed into the air and, fee-fi-fo-fum, our little guy has transformed into a super-smeller. His celebrity nose is soon sniffing out extra-martial affairs, hidden boxes of nolen gurer sondesh, stolen money, disappearing cars and guessing which classmate ate what for dinner last night.

The kids are adorable and artless, not precocious, simpering twits parroting moral science lessons.

Gill’s melting innocence and natural charm as an amateur sleuth, along with a bunch of other sweet kids cast as his friends, made me care about their adventures even if it’s the most underwhelming, underwritten aspect of Sniff.

Except ambiance not ambition is what lends its just about 90 minutes running time value.

Sunny lives in an old residential colony of suburban Mumbai, one of those cosy three-storied structures overlooking a modest playground and inhabiting a middle-class community of mixed ethnicity and shifting affability.

One oddball Mukerjee couple in particular, border-lining on caricature — obnoxious cop wife (a barmy Sushmita Mukherjee), henpecked house husband (understated Putul Guha) — is designed to catch our eye.

Mostly though, Gupte sources his own experiences growing up in the said neighbourhood, employing a large number of non-actors to fill the frames with authenticity and flavour the narrative in a humour that comes from a place of familiarity.

The director (also pitching in a cameo as one of its snarkier residents and Ganpati celebration frontrunner) nails the bickering over shoddy security, parking monopoly and illegal construction characterising society meetings to a T.

As someone who grew up in one such space, it amused me no end. And for most part, so does this movie.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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