Historically, Hindi flicks geared towards children have often focused either on poverty (Salaam Bombay; Dosti) or illness (Dil Ek Mandir; anything with sibling child-stars Honey and Daisy Irani in their heyday). The well-made My Friend Ganesha is different, and goes one step beyond 2005’s excellent animated film, Hanuman. The film is inspired, perhaps, by Hrithik Roshan’s recent films involving a pint-sized extra-terrestrial (Koi Mil Gaya) and an all-Indian superhero (Krrish), both of which capitalized on the universal fantasy-watching demographic. In the affirmatively kid-friendly My Friend Ganesha, daydreaming is perfectly ok, standing up to bullies is a given, and teaming up with the cartoon manifestation of a certain playful, elephant-headed god is especially encouraged.
Balancing live action with perfectly interjected animated sequences (rememberWho Framed Roger Rabbit?), My Friend Ganesha finds eight-year-old Ashu (Channa, also in Vaastu Shastra and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), a nerdy Mumbai school kid determined to stand up to a schoolyard bully. When his school bus breaks down during a flood-inducing downpour, Ashu rescues a mouse from drowning in the ever-rising monsoon waters. This act of kindness gets noticed in the lofty Himalayan mountain abode of the gods, where the divine elephant-headed wonder child decides to join up with Ashu for a few days of boy-boy bonding.
As playful as director Ruia makes it all seem—Ganesha attempting conversation in English and gliding through the Himalayas on a snowboard are amusing—there is enough room for a moral message.
How Ashu finds inner strength to confront his schoolyard nemesis, and how Ashu’s secular two-income, white-collar, nuclear Indian family rediscovers their Hindu roots, are messages as relevant and refreshing in America as in India.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.