Lilkee is a 11-year-old girl, from a small, remote village in the hills of Garhwal, in Northern India. Lilkee’s mother is very poor, and after her husband’s death, can barely make ends meet with the domestic work she does in other houses. Bela belongs to the same village, and works as a young architect in Mumbai. She brings Lilkee to Mumbai to look after her 8-month-old baby, Bittu. Bela herself would like to get back to at least, part-time work. Tutu, Bela’s corporate executive husband disapproves of the whole scheme, as he thinks Lilkee is too young, and liable to become a responsibility rather than a help.

When Lilkee first arrives in the city, she is awestruck with the crowds, the traffic, and the tall buildings and with Bela’s posh home in a skyscraper tower in suburban Mumbai. She feels homesick and misses her mother and her village very much, but she knows that her mother cannot afford to keep her, and that she must work to earn her own living.

When Bela leaves Lilkee home alone with Bittu, to go to work, Lilkee is a little scared and also restless, confined in a flat. She misses the open landscape of her village, and running around free, with her friends. But she deflects her homesickness, by writing letters to her mother, about her life in the city, comparing it to the life in the village. She tries to describe the various things in the city, which her mother would find amazing, the lift, the phones, the skyscrapers, and fantasizes that if these were to be transplanted to the village, her mother’s life would be so different. The letters are compiled into a song, and the city is transported to the village through Lilkee’s words.

On her third or fourth day in the city, when Lilkee takes the baby, Bittu out for a walk in his pram, she meets three girls her own age, playing football. Rhea, is the tallest, good at games, a natural leader, but a snob and judges people by their clothes, their toys, their homes. Sani is roly-poly, cute, easygoing and lazy. She hates to study, but is good at diffusing tension, and making everyone laugh. Anushka is a whiz with computers, very sensitive and hates to hurt anyone.

At first, the gang doesn’t realize that Lilkee is a servant girl, because she is well dressed, pretty and talks of the baby as her younger brother, and Bela as her sister. But when they visit her at home, in Bela’s absence, Rhea puts two and two together, and draws her own conclusions. Tutu also meets the gang at home, and is concerned that Lilkee is crossing the line. Tutu and Bela have a chat about it, worried about the fact that their neighbors won’t like their children to mix up with a servant girl. But before they can talk to Lilkee about it, Rhea on realizing that Lilkee is a servant girl bans the gang from playing with her. Lilkee is hurt and confused, when the girls avoid her.

One day, the gang finds Lilkee playing with some stray pups in the compound. Rhea asks her to stop playing with the pups; they belong to the gang. Lilkee fights back that they are not, but when she sees an elder approaching, she runs away. Anushka argues with Rhea about why Lilkee cannot play with the pups, but Rhea is stubborn. Later that night, when Anushka’s grandfather puts her to sleep, he finds her troubled. Anushka does not want to tell tales, but her grandfather does manage to tell her that she must not be afraid of sticking up for what she thinks is right. Friends, who cannot understand that, are not worth having.

Anushka is still too scared to go against Rhea. Even when Lilkee retaliates against a little boy, Golu who makes Anushka fall from her cycle, and gets a scolding for it, Anushka does not go up to Lilkee. But the next day, she makes friends with Lilkee while she is playing with the pups.

When the pups are driven out of the building complex by the society secretary and the watchman, Lilkee and the other girls follow them out. Sani decides to take one puppy home. Rhea would like to take the other one, but Lilkee has it in her arms. Rhea is too proud to ask her for it, but Lilkee generously gives it to her. The girls become friends.

The girls, because of their own protected and pampered existence, cannot understand many things about Lilkee’s life – the fact that she has to work and that she has to live away from her mother are the two most horrible punishments they can imagine. Though Sani feels that the fact that Lilkee does not have to go to school is ample compensation for the hardships that she has to face. Lilkee herself would like to go to school, but she never brings the matter up. Though Bela and Tutu are concerned and aware that she is not going to school, they are too caught up in their own plans, and promise themselves that they will send her at a later date.

Lilkee meanwhile wins over Tutu with her simple ways, her eagerness to help and her affection. But one day, when he returns home and finds Lilkee and the baby missing, he panics. When Lilkee and the baby return, and he learns that Bittu had swallowed a bead, and Lilkee had to rush him to the doctor, he loses his head, and gets very angry with Lilkee, and almost slaps her. He blames her for being careless. Lilkee is shocked at his anger, and realizes that she is after all, only a servant girl to Tutu and Bela. Though Tutu apologizes to her, she tells Bela that she would like to go back home. That night, she misses her mother very much, and cries herself to sleep. Memories of her mother, her father, the villagers at home, her friends in the village, haunt her through a lullaby her mother used to sing.

The gang is very angry with Tutu for raising his hand against Lilkee. They decide to save up money and send her back to her home. In their minds, Bela and Tutu become villains who have snatched Lilkee away from her home. The gang collects money in various ways, and pool in all they have. When the girls want to hand over the money to Lilkee, she is reluctant to take it. She assures them that Tutu will leave her home. The gang asks Lilkee to take the money, anyway, and buy some nice things for herself. Lilkee refuses even that, because she is too proud to take things from them, and Bela has given her enough. So, the girls decide to give Lilkee a treat. They ask her what she would like to do best. They propose a visit to the mall, coffee or pizza, but are amazed when she says she would like to see the sea, she has never seen the sea. They themselves take the sea and the beach for granted and find it boring to go there. The gang decides to take Lilkee to Juhu beach, on her birthday. Rhea convinces Anushka and Sani to keep the outing a secret from their parents, because Rhea’s mother does not like her to be friends with Lilkee. Anushka and Sani agree to lie, because they feel that this will be their last chance to make Lilkee happy.

The gang has a new secret mission. Rhea calls the driver of her car, pretending to be her mother, and asks him to take the children out to Juhu. The driver is surprised, but obedient. He drops the children at Juhu beach; they run off and start playing (There is a song here about fun, frolic and friendship and funny, comic moments at the beach). The girls have planned to go back home at the time when they normally return from school. But in their excitement, they get late. And then, they get caught in a typical Mumbai traffic jam. Lilkee realizes that the other girls have not informed their parents about the trip.

When the children don’t come home from school, panic sets in. The parents call each other up, meet, and wonder whether they should call the police. Rhea’s mother realizes that the car is missing, and is convinced that the driver has kidnapped the children. Anushka’s grandfather suddenly remembers Lilkee, and thinks perhaps she would know something about it. But when they call Bela they realize that even Lilkee is missing. However, Bela tells them that the children have gone to Juhu beach. Lilkee told her and went, and she had presumed that the other children had also told their parents. The parents are relieved but very angry, and begin waiting for the children to come back.

When the girls return home, they all get a scolding and are dragged off home, by their parents. They are all subdued and sad. Lilkee goes back home with Bela, who tells her that Tutu has a birthday treat for her. Lilkee does not show any enthusiasm, she is still distant from Tutu.

When they reach home, Tutu makes Lilkee close her eyes, and guides her into the house. When she opens her eyes, she finds that Tutu and Bela have bought her a school uniform, school bag, books, etc. She is to go to school. She starts dancing with excitement. Tutu apologizes to her again, and hugs her.

The morning after, as the gang waits for the school bus, talking about the previous day, they are surprised to see Lilkee coming towards them with a school uniform and a school bag. Sani starts dancing with joy, Anushka beams with delight, Rhea runs to Lilkee and starts questioning her. They all get into the school bus, chatting and laughing excitedly.

In Lilkee’s village, her mother and little sister walk back home, through the hills. Lilkee’s sister is reading Lilkee’s letter aloud for her mother. Lilkee writes that Bela has put her in school, and she has made many friends in Mumbai. She is going to come first in class, like she used to in the village. And she is going to bring back a doll for her little sister when she comes home in the holidays.

Original story: Batul Mukhtiar
Screenplay: 70 minutes
@ November 2004

JugalJugal said…

Beautiful Batul, this is simply phenomenal 🙂

7:33 PM

BatulBatul said…

Thanks, Jugal

10:18 AM

Jyothi Kapur Das said…

When can i see the film…?

2:26 PM

Anonymous said…

Belive me Batul,

I had tears in my eues reading it.
Now, looking forwrd to see film.

ami

4:21 PM

Cobainess said…

I bumped onto your blog.. I am glad I did. Its a beautiful story.. so hope-giving. Tears welled up in my eyes while reading this.. Really beautiful..

4:19 PM

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