Sixth Happiness

1997, Movie, NR, 97 mins


In this bizarre adaptation of Firdaus Kanga's 1990 autobiographical novel Trying to Grow, the author, born with a debilitating bone disease, appears as a slightly fictionalized -- and much younger -- version of himself. Born in Bombay in 1962 to a well-to-do Parsee family, Brit Kotwal (Kanga) suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that deforms his bones and renders them extremely brittle. The occasional cruel comment or inconsiderate stare aside, Brit grows-up relatively happy, coddled by his Anglophiliac mother (Souad Faress) and his loving sister (Nina Wadia), and intellectually inspired by worldly tutor Madame Manekshaw (Sabira Merchant). Brit's father (Khodus Wadia), however, can barely conceal his discomfort around his fragile "son of glass," and he's frankly embarrassed by the boy's appearance. But Brit is more resilient than all that, or so he'd like to think; when a handsome young boarder (Ahsen Bhatti) comes to stay in his family's home, Brit learns that bones aren't the only thing about a body that can break. In our current age of extreme body consciousness, Kanga's story of coming to terms with his own appearance is a welcome one; the film's strongest moment features Brit taking in his naked body in a full-length mirror. But the decision to cast the diminutive, thirtysomething Kanga as a child was unfortunate. The effect is startling — a mewling eight-year-old with a five o'clock shadow — and not a little grotesque, seriously undermining the film's mission to move beyond the superficial. These scenes from Brit's childhood are narrated by an adult Brit, who, directly addressing the camera, reflects on important passages in his adolescence. Kanga has a fascinating presence and hypnotic voice that makes one wish the whole production had been mounted as one-man show, rather than such a stagy, poorly directed film. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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