But this isn't a story about food. It could be, because Bhukkad is obviously poor and disenfranchised. We first meet him sleeping on the ground, surrounded by a scattering of books. Attached to the post holding up his makeshift shelter is a kite flying through an overcast sky.
Bhukkad is awakened by a morning drunk who's cut the kite loose. His alcohol splatters over the boy, shocking him into consciousness. When he escapes that first man—who radiates a wanton, clowny violence—a quest begins.
In "Bhukkad," we witness the balance of darkness and play that characterizes the world of children. Bhukkad's world can be sinister, but the boy himself is too deft, too driven by something, to shoulder discouragement or humor fear for long. As he traipses around the neighborhood, we learn he really is insatiable … for knowledge.
One woman shows him catfish. A man teaches him the works of Munshi Premchand; another teaches him to recite William Wordsworth's "Daffodils" in English. The curiosity that fuels Bhukkad becomes the rhythm of the story, infusing its music as he chooses his teachers.
Only at the film's end do we fully understand his circumstances: Bhukkad is the son of a sex worker in Mumbai's Kamathipura, and most of these men frequent the red light district. This isn't meant to make us sad; it's a fact that lends context to the quest, led with vigor by a boy in an adult world that alternates between active discouragement and cautious generosity.
The film was screened earlier this month on G.B. Road, the red light district in New Delhi, where sex workers were encouraged to see it with their children. It served as an announcement for the Open Door Project, based on the idea that truly "hungry" children will always find a way to learn.
The Millennium School Trust, which funded "Bhukkad," has promised to offer scholarships to 24 children of sex workers. Some attendees included kids receiving education already, from the NGO Kat-Katha, dedicated to ending forced sex work.
"The movie's mission is to inspire the children of all red light districts in the country," FCB India's chief creative officer, Swati Bhattacharya, told the Times of India, which announced the release of "Bhukkad."
Director Anaam Mishra told the Times that the film's characters are inspired by true stories from Kamathipura's sex workers. At the end of the film, Bhukkad—who's scooped up so many pearls amid so much precarity—discovers he's gotten a perfect score in math, and announces the news to his proud mother while the surrounding women tease him.
This may be our favorite thing about "Bhukkad." It doesn't hide the fact that the pursuit of betterment is a solitary one, riddled with discouragement. But it also doesn't bear down on this. Like Bhukkad himself, you keep searching anyway. You make a secret yardstick against which to measure yourself—maybe math scores, or the smile of a parent who understands who you are, if not always what you're doing.
"Education has been historically limited to an elite section, but must be made accessible to all," says Shantanu Prakash, founder of The Millennium Schools. "High-quality education is a passport to a good job and progress in life."
Prakash also told the Times that the Millennium Schools hold special classes after normal hours, for underprivileged students.