Zhi Hua (Lei Qingyao) wants to be a doctor, but she's not, at first glance, an ideal candidate for studying
in medical college - she has no arms. With fate having callously put her at a 75% disadvantage compared to most of the rest of us, she originally had no chance of even being admitted to school. And if she hadn't learnt to write, eat, brush, dress, cook and even sew with her feet, there's no telling where she would have ended up.
Indeed, it's stupefying to watch her do all that, and you'd think it was trick camera or something when they first show us how she effortlessly wears a shirt. But soon enough, we're shown close-ups of her filling a tub of water from a bucket using her mouth, and sponging her face and brushing her teeth using her feet.
Ningi Nela Naade is the Telugu dubbed version of Invisible Wings, a Chinese movie in which the disabled Lei Qingyao plays Zhi Hua in a pretty sobering tale based on her own life. Zhi Hua, the only child of parents who struggle to make ends meet, loses both her arms after a freak accident with an electric transformer while she goes to fetch a fallen kite. Her arms have to be amputated, and her parents are mortified. Egged on by them, Zihua overcomes one challenge after another, to finally emerge as an Olympic swimming champion with just one handicap - she still can't fly a kite.
It is easy to see why the film has caught the fancy of educationists and youth-motivation champions to try and rouse kids and teenagers out of emotional decay. It's a story that invites no dispute, and because of the handicap of the protagonist, no disrespect, so no one's likely to have any issues with it.
However, as a film, Ningi Nela Naade is essentially a documentary - with a hard-hitting lesson, yes, but a documentary at heart. And hence, it is much like one of those inspirational books given away as prizes in competitions - purposeful, but with not enough promotional value of its own.
In fact, the narrative is not exhilarating, profound or even artistically helped - a far, far cry from films like Black
. There's a sense of foreboding all through, and kids will have to be repeatedly told that watching this film will really make them class toppers, else they're unlikely to stretch their attention spans. 'Parental Guidance', in short.
The performances are about average, with the actors playing Zhi's parents being the best of all. Lei herself is all right, the emotions we gather are mostly because of the enthusiastic dubbing.
The movie has some calming shots of the vast expanse of Chinese wasteland, because Zhi Hua's family lives in a shack bang in the middle of nowhere. The rest is shot indoors, varying from Zhi Hua's basic lodgings to her hostel and other assorted places. Chitra has voiced the theme song, which just plays twice. The rest of the music flows with the film's tone.
It's worth a watch for any generation, but don't fret if it's left the theatres, which it might, soon.