Documentary director Chris Smith takes his camera to Goa, India for a scripted neo-realistic character sketch that pales in comparison to Slumdog Millionaire. Both films showcase a lower caste boy living resourcefully and seeking upward mobility, but without the production values and polish of Danny Boyle's crowd-pleaser, The Pool is destined for only a few art house theater screenings and future DVD rentals. It's worth seeing, primarily for its beautiful Goa setting—a locale far less cinematically explored than Mumbai or Delhi.
Smith signals his documentary approach with the first shaky handheld shot that frames 18 year old protagonist Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan) on a bus. With minimal education he has left his small village to work as a hotel boy and sell plastic bags on Goa's streets with 12 year old partner Jhangir (Jhangir Badshah), and one day comes across the beautiful swimming pool of Nana (Nana Patekar) and his attractive young daughter Ayesha (Ayesha Mohan). The pool immediately becomes an obsession—an obvious symbol of wealth and privilege that Venkatesh sets as a goal to one day swim in freely. The Goa setting makes this even more pointed since the oceanside locale is widely renown by tourists for its fine beaches, yet Venkatesh plainly states that he has no desire to swim in the ocean.
Venkatesh initially spies on the pool from a tree limb overlook and gradually gets closer to Nana—a man who must be wealthy with such a fine pool owns this extra house in Goa aside from his main one in Bombay. Using a two-prong approach by offering to work for Nana and befriend his daughter, Venkatesh comes across as relatively bold and very awkward initially. While much of the disjointed dialogue is due to relatively amateurish script-writing, it seems real enough introductory conversation between strangers that warms more naturally as the characters get to know each other.
Nana takes on a hardcore mentorship role and preaches more than talks, but does have a good moment when offhandedly revealing why no one swims in the pool. It's also to Smith's credit that he doesn't overplay the role of the pool at this point and allows Venkatesh to consider his various options before deciding on a course that demonstrates insight and selflessness.
Matching its more relaxed locale with a far slower pace than Boyle's popular Slumdog Millionaire, Smith's personal film is worth checking out—for its cultural insights and a provocative examination of a simple life on the verge of capturing what he thinks to be his ultimate dream, who adjusts admirably under changing circumstances.