“Sniff”… A fantastic premise, a missed opportunity

Posted on August 26, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Would food taste as good if you couldn’t smell it? This isn’t the kind of existential question that you’d think would plague a child – Sunny (Khushmeet Gill) – but the boy has no sense of smell, and his grandmother (known, simply, as bebe, and played by Surekha Sikri) is devastated. The film opens with mounds of spices, slices of vegetables, the creation of lip-smacking pickle. The jar is passed around the dining table – everyone takes a deep breath, savours the aroma, and only then is a finger dipped in, for the taste. Everyone except Sunny. His father tells bebe, “It’s not as though he can’t see or speak or walk.” But Bebe won’t budge. “In this household, not being able to smell is like being blind.”

The film moves quickly to the other end of the alimentary canal. To his sister’s disgust, Sunny keeps forgetting to flush. (Another existential question: If it doesn’t smell, is it really crap?) Cut to the second half, and we’re back to the mouth. Sunny has his sense of smell not just restored but enhanced to superhuman levels. He smells clove in his sister’s mouth. When he asks why, she replies that her boyfriend had a toothache. Sunny asks, innocently, why her mouth should smell of clove if her boyfriend was using it for relief. Sniff could have been a comedy wrought from this fantastical premise – but director Amole Gupte is after an Enid Blyton-esque adventure, with Sunny turning into a Find-Outer on the case of a car thief.

It feels terrible to carp at a film made for children when there’s so few of these around – it’s the critical equivalent of tossing a mewling kitten off a cliff – but just about nothing goes right in Sniff. The music is loud and treacly, the characters are stereotypes, and even the can’t-miss scenes – like the one where the new and improved Sunny smells his classmates’ breath and guesses what they’ve had to eat – are leadenly staged. The pacing is so off that even at 90 minutes, the film seems a slog. In Stanley Ka Dabba, Gupte pulled off a series of moments that he appeared to have found – in contrast, everything here seems manufactured. Jagga Jasoos, frankly, made me feel more of a child.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi