At first light, Keshava’s eyes shine in anticipation. It is time for the most important event of the day - the arrival of the newspaper boy whose casual flick brings Keshava a mine of knowledge. Balakrishna, though, can’t resist food and in particular, sweets.
Their best friend is Kempa and the trio is soon joined by Rita, another orphan, at the orphanage they live in. Rita fuels Keshava’s desire to learn more – even if it is by distributing newspapers across the City! Keshava approaches the newspaper agent but is rebuffed by warden Srinivasaiah.
Not one to give up, Keshava and friends lie to the agent and begin working. All they desire is a copy of all the papers of the day given to them. It is during this ‘adventure’ that Keshava stumbles upon a letter. He is so distraught after reading it that he immediately flees the orphanage, taking his friends along with him.
It is difficult to slot Ball Pen into the children’s film category. For one, the unhurried pace of the first half is consistent with the approach of those who make films with an eye on awards and subsidy. The scene where Keshava weeps with dry eyes can be cited here. Indeed, the dialogues are saturated with the forced goodness of ideals.
Post-interval, the story picks up and goes on at an unpredictable tangent. On the way, the boys lose all pretence, allowing their spontaneity to come forth – Shashikanth redeems himself after the shoddy take-off. The arid climes of the faraway Koppal then take over, lifting the story into a compelling drama. The realities of the debt-ridden, hapless farmer households deliver yet another slap in the face, but only to those who still retain at least an ounce of humanity. For the rest, alas, it is another “ho-hum art cinema” adopting some technical finesse.
For, Ball Pen is enriched by some intelligent and thoughtful cinematography (Rajkumar) and music (Manikant Kadri). Sri Crazy Minds’ scissors are sharp, too. Shashikanth drops preachy words and allows the pauses to carry the film forward well. The end may seem similar to other children’s films, but the sincerity of the children carries the day. ‘Ball Pen’ is not central to the story, or perhaps it was intended – to prod and nudge, if not shake, the powers-that-be.