The Netflix Original movie 15 August is ostensibly a light-hearted comedy-drama about a forbidden romance, and possibly an allegory for many socio-political facets of Mumbai culture, but it’s mostly the story of a boy with his hand stuck in a hole. Produced by Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit, the Marathi film is set in a Mumbai chawl, a densely populated working-class tenement featuring a courtyard in which there’s a hole that’s the perfect size for a flagpole, but ever-so-slightly too small for a boy’s hand. For the first 40 minutes, the movie introduces us to a bevy of principal and supporting players, and for most of the next 100 minutes, they try to extract the boy’s hand from the hole. If that sounds like riveting drama to you, then please, read on.
15 AUGUST: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The more plausible of 15 August‘s main plots features Raju (Rahul Pethe) and Jui (Mrunmayee Deshpande), young lovers whose parents want to put the kibosh on their relationship. Jui’s parents aim to marry her off to a rich, handsome man with a BMW and a big house and a very well-paying job in America. Raju, a talented artist who dreams of being a great painter, is seen as a worthless layabout by his father — and most people in the chawl, for that matter. It’s August 15, and the locals are preparing for an Independence Day ceremony featuring a speech and ceremonial flag-raising.
Raju buys Jui a ring, and intends to talk her into eloping. But he drops it, and it artfully slo-mo-rolls into the flagpole hole. He recruits young Ninad (Aaryan Menghji), who successfully retrieved his marble from the hole previously, to fetch the ring. But this time, the boy’s hand gets stuck, a spectacle that draws a crowd of locals who try everything from practical (pulling really hard, lubrication) to spiritual (praying, calling a palm reader) means to get it out. Mr. Gokhale (Vaibhav Mangale) leads the small mob of concerned gawkers and family in brainstorming extraction ideas. Meanwhile, the handsome BMW guy arrives; the moody Raju simmers and frets; and Jui faces a tough choice: the moody artist or the dashing businessman?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Um, Holes? Caddyshack? But seriously, any kind of sitcommy ensemble comedy will do — maybe My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but with more hole-based allegories.
Performance Worth Watching: Mangale strikes the right comic-relief tone as the neighborhood busybody know-it-all goofball. He stands out ever so slightly from the rest of the cast, which is uniformly solid. You’ll wish the script was as vibrant as the lineup of colorful characters, though.
Memorable Dialogue: “Only mother India will save you now!” bellows one of the neighborfolk to Ninad, after many unsuccessful attempts to free his hand. Independence Day festivities must go on, whether the hole is filled with pole or paw.
Single Best Shot: Hole cam! Raju peers down into the hole to look at his lost ring, and a nifty bit of rack-focus shifts our eyes from the prized object to his worried face.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Frankly, the hole just doesn’t seem very deep. Perhaps the allegory is lost to American sensibilities, which defines the hole as nothing more than a hole, and not a focal point for Indian socio-political commentary. The movie probably should be an absurdist comedy transcending the mundanity of its premise, but it’s difficult to hurdle the hard truth here: it takes a massive bulk of screen time to get the damn kid’s hand out of the damn hole. (Is this a spoiler? Do you really think this type of light fare would end with an amputation scene? Please note, I didn’t compare it to Requiem for a Dream.)
Still, Pethe and Deshpande make the most of their roles, injecting the otherwise goofy 15 August with some wholly necessary sincerity. They enjoy some good, earnest, heartfelt scenes towards the end of the film, but considering the onslaught of meanderingly metaphorical hand-hole drama, those moments arrive a little too late.
Our Call: SKIP IT. You’ll wish the movie was less hole-y-er than thou.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.